LA JOLLA, Calif. - Tiger Woods' walks off the course to the scoring area are usually stoic, unsmiling stalks, even after his best moments. But not this time. With the roars off the 18th green still echoing around Torrey Pines, with the clock speeding towards 11 p.m. on the East Coast where his major heroics found prime time, Tiger wore one of the biggest, probably giddiest smiles you've ever seen on the face of the golfer who yearns to be known as history's best.
When Woods reached the little glass-enclosed room that serves as the scoring area for this 108th U.S. Open, he didn't stop, either. And everyone else in the field seems to realize there's probably no stopping him now.
On a Southern California evening when Woods hit three of the most memorable shots in a legendary career built on no-way-did-you-just-see-that golf shots, even he finally seemed to be impressed, and maybe even a little shocked, with himself.
A 66-foot eagle putt from the back of the green on 13. A chip-in birdie from below the ridge on 17. A 38-foot bending, swerving eagle putt on 18. All while sometimes using his driver as something of a cane for a surgically repaired knee that he admits is feeling worse every day.
"Just a boring day of golf, right?" Woods grinned.
The last birdie bomb gave Woods a one-shot lead over Lee Westwood heading into this afternoon's final round of the U.S. Open, which has always sounded "Taps" for his competitors before. Three under for the Open after a 1-under 70 Saturday, Tiger tees off at 1:30 p.m. PST touting that perfect 13-0 record when taking a lead into the final round of a major.
There's a whole lot of expectation now that Jack Nicklaus will be only four up in majors by the time the sun sets on today.
Woods is one of only three men under par (Rocco Mediate at 1-under joins Westwood and Woods in this category) at a U.S. Open that's looking more and more like a typical U.S. Open (read: tough), and he's the only one that everyone else left in the field is freaking out over.
"Obviously, I'm going to have to play a great round of golf, because I've got the No. 1 player in the world in front of me," D.J. Trahan, who's 4 back at plus one, said. "And he's not known for doing the back stroke, if you know what I mean.
"It's Tiger. He's the greatest frontrunner in golf."
Woods grabbed the lead with three shots that many more than the estimated 50,000 who crammed their way onto Torrey Pines' fairways Saturday evening will be recalling for a long, long time. After the 66-foot lightning bolt dropped on 13, Woods let loose with one of the longest double fist pump sequences he's ever unleashed. When the chip found the cup's bottom on 17, he just wore a stunned, almost sheepish smile. Then, he started laughing.
"I wasn't trying to hit it to the flag," Woods said later of 17. "That was pure luck. Just pure luck. I really hit it too hard."
No one else in the field is buying that.
"Mr. Woods, Mr. Woods," Mediate came running up as Woods finished up his near-the-scorers-room interviews. "Are you completely out of your mind? I mean, completely!"
Playing in the group behind Woods and Robert Karlsson (who blew up with a 75), Mediate sometimes found himself shaking his head in wonder at what was going on up on the greens in front of him.
"You're thinking, 'What the heck? What is he doing?'" Mediate said. "'Stop it. Just stop it, please.'"
Westwood actually matched Woods' 1-under 70 on Saturday, but there was none of the dramatics in the 35-year-old Englishmen's round. Instead, Westwood finished with six straight pars to put himself in the best position he's ever had to win a major.
"I've just been very calm, and I didn't really have too many expectations coming in here," said Westwood, who had dropped all the way down to the 200th ranked player in the world in 2002 after having once been fourth.
Westwood actually has experience coming from behind to beat Woods. He did it when he shot a 64 at the Deutsche Bank in 2000, but Westwood himself admits this is a totally different animal, a totally different stage and a totally different Tiger.
"It's better to have done it than not done it, though," said Westwood, who wasn't in the final group with Tiger at Deutsche like he will be today.
No majors on his resume and on the back nine of his career, Westwood still is one of the only guys on paper who even hold the kind of position to have any type of legit chance, though. Only four players are within four shots of Tiger, and Geoff Ogilvy is the only one of those who has won a major. And Ogilvy's four back at 1-over after a 72 Saturday.
Ernie Els stood primed to get another Sunday shot at Tiger, but The Big Easy made his own big trouble with four bogeys in a 3-over 74, putting him six shots back at 3-under for the tournament. The leader coming into the weekend, Stuart Appleby, suffered an even worse implosion, with an 8-over 79 that put him out of it at 5-over for the Open.
Everyone's once again looking at Tiger Woods, with the question becoming if the knee will do what his peers have long been unable to on a Sunday. The occasional grimaces throughout the Open turned into downright pain - and a walk down the fairway with his driver serving as something of extra lean support - after his drive on 15 Saturday.
Woods planned for another night of icing, whirlpool and treatment from an all-star team of trainers before this afternoon. He wouldn't bite when asked about his clearly bigger-than-usual smiles, either, wouldn't admit to sending a message with that dagger putt on 18 that gave him the major lead he's never lost before.
"You really don't look at it like that," Woods said. "You have to stay patient, stay in the moment."
"That's it," a golf writer said when Woods left. "He's Jesus. He's really Jesus."
No one laughed too hard. Not after the three shots Saturday.
June 15, 2008
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Davis Love III, who played the final 57 holes of the Children's Miracle Network Classic without a bogey, finished at 25-under 263 in the season-ending event played at the Walt Disney World Golf Resort in Florida. It has been a long road back for Love, who severely sprained his ankle late last year. After tearing ligaments, he needed surgery, and he's spent much of this year rehabilitating the injury.
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