Photo by Paul Mounce/Corbis via Getty Images
By Travelin’ Joe Passov
Tiger Woods returned to Southern California this week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for the purpose teeing it up at Torrey Pines for the U.S. Open. So many storylines are swirling around golf’s greatest competitors. So far, however, the biggest storyline has revolved around the player who’s missing—Tiger Woods.
On the one hand, it was encouraging to see Tiger ambulating on his own, albeit with crutches at the Los Angeles airport. On the other, it still depresses one and all that he can’t defend the Torrey Pines U.S. Open title that he captured in unforgettable fashion in 2008.
There may have been more important, historically significant U.S. Opens. None, however, was more thrilling than the 2008 edition. Fresh off a surgical procedure to his left knee after the 2008 Masters, Tiger had taken a two-month break from competitive golf when he arrived at Torrey Pines in suburban San Diego. Fans could see him clutching his left leg and wincing in pain, yet they were mesmerized by his Saturday performance that featured two eagles and a chip-in birdie in a six-hole stretch. Little did we know—because Tiger didn’t tell us until the tournament ended—that he was actually competing with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and that further, he had suffered a double stress fracture of his left tibia two weeks before the U.S. Open.
Woods came to the final hole needing a difficult 12-foot putt to tie Rocco Mediate and earn an 18-hole playoff. Down went the putt, up went Tiger’s fist. The playoff was anything but anticlimactic. From three down with eight to play, Mediate pulled ahead by one after 17 holes. Time for another Tiger roar. Smashed drive, soaring 4-iron, two-putt birdie. Sudden death. A Mediate bogey ended things on the 91st hole. Tiger had his third U.S. Open crown. In a lifetime of Tiger Woods highlights, this was perhaps the Tiger Woodsiest.
On the Wednesday following his Monday playoff victory, Tiger told the world of his plans to have season-ending surgery, forcing him to forego the year’s final two majors as well as the Ryder Cup. Eventually, he returned and dazzled us again and again, culminating in a win for the ages at the 2019 Masters.
No one knows for sure when Tiger will next compete. We know he has a bright future in course design, as illustrated by his wonderful work at Diamante’s El Cardonal and at the Oasis Short Course, among other creations. But every one of us would love to see him come back to tournament golf one more time. Tiger is missing Torrey Pines this week, but Torrey Pines and all of his fans are missing Tiger even more.