Tiger Woods has emerged as an unlikely favourite to clinch the US Open at the Olympic Club, San Francisco June 14th to June 17th.
We all know what happened to Tiger in 2009 with the infidelity scandal and the break-up of his marriage, the fall-out is still being felt. The one-time all-conquering sun-king of golf’s fall from grace was as painful to watch as it was bewildering as the real details about his private life came to light, all the more so because of the disparity between the private persona and the public sportsman.
It was slow-motion public image train wreck on an epic scale. I don’t know if we’ll ever see it’s like again, but for it’s sheer voyeuristic value it was tabloid fodder for months. The personal scandal prefaced a radical redesigning of his swing and a catastrophic slump in form, one that he has not come out of and the longer it takes, the less likely it looks that he will ever dominate the world of golf as he used to.
Tiger is still one hell of a golfer though, it’s just that there are still legions of fans out there who seem to willing him on to his former glories. The crown slipped and the young pretenders swooped on their chance to claim their spot as the greatest. Rory Mc Ilroy stated his case with a resounding victory at last year’s US Open, but for all the youngster’s undoubted talent and unshakeable self-belief, he has yet to find the consistency of form to really convince. Luke Donald is a worthy talent as is Lee Westwood, but there has always been the nagging fear that others were only enjoying their day in the sun as Tiger withdrew to lick his wounds.
This looks the most open Open for many years where any one of about 15-20 players who can sieze the day such as Hunter Mahan, Ricky Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and many more. Grabbing the headlines in the build up is 14 year old sensation Andy Zhang how played his way into the tournament and will tee off with the big hitters. Zhang, whose parents are Chinese, hails from Florida and s not set to finish High School until 2016. That's the beauty of the US Open it's predictably unpredictable.
Tiger stirred things up this month by taking his second win of the year at the Memorial, equalling Jack Nicklaus’ 73 PGA Tour titles in the process. He did so with some style, taking a four shot deficit into the final day and finishing strongly with three birdies in the last four holes. He executed a sublime up-and-down on the 16th that Nicklaus claimed ‘was one of the best shots I’ve ever seen’.
Tiger’s short game appears to back the decisive factor will be how he handles the putter. And how the course treats him. The Olympic Club in San Francisco which hosts its fourth US Open tournament, the others being in 1955, 1966, 1987 and 1998 has a history of throwing up surprise results such as Ben Hogan losing out to Jack Flleck in ’55, Arnold Palmer succumbing to Billy Casper and Tom Watson being rolled over by Scott Simpson. The US Open always provides high drama and intrigue, played in the most gentile of settings, with impeccable civility, culminating in the inevitable heart-stopping finish on the Sunday.
This could be the pefect stage for Tiger’s comeback. There is no shortage of goodwill for the former number one, but if he misses this chance you feel, he may not get another opportunity to get back to his former self. Will Tiger roar again, or will he go out with a mew?
By Hugo Mc Cafferty