Back in 2008, shortly after Chambers Bay was awarded the 2015 U.S. Open, Tiger Woods won the Open at Torrey Pines.
It was Tiger’s 14th major title, and golf fans in the Northwest started doing the speculative calculus.
He needed only five more majors to accomplish his oft-stated life-long goal of surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ career total of 18.
While it was fun to think he might top Jack’s record at Chambers Bay, it surely seemed as if he’d be well over 20 by 2015. At that point, he had 27 major-title opportunities to get just five.
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He was 32 back then. He’d been averaging more than one major championship a year.
Nobody considered the possibility that the dramatic playoff win over Rocco Mediate in 2008 would be his last major victory.
The odds he’ll add to his total this week are beyond remote, as he stands No. 195 in the World Golf Rankings, with just two top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour since the end of the 2013 season.
His game is a train wreck (maybe not a good metaphor considering Chambers Bay’s location adjacent to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks).
But with some of the scores he’s been carding, it seems he might have trouble contending in the local member-guest two-ball if he didn’t have a great partner.
Consider: In the third round of the Memorial, a 39-year-old shadow of Tiger Woods shot an 85 on his way to finishing 29 shots behind the winner, David Lingmerth.
Tiger Woods used to scrape his cleats off on the David Lingmerths on the Tour.
But if he’s grown increasingly irrelevant competitively, fans haven’t noticed. The crowd that followed him during his practice round early Monday at Chambers Bay was the largest of the day.
It could have been the lure of nostalgia rather than the expectation of excellence. But those on hand to witness a tragic specter, like Johnny Unitas hobbling around for the San Diego Chargers, saw something else.
He’s still lithe and fit and fluid in his movements. He appeared focused and workmanlike on both the course and the practice range.
But that’s not enough with golf, of course. The game rewards nothing short of the appropriate alloy of icy emotions, unwavering focus and a Slinky for a spinal column.
Time and circumstances have whittled away at Woods in all those departments.
The cause of his decline has spawned speculation for years. He was fiddling too much with his swing, and with cocktail waitresses. Or he was focusing on strength more than flexibility.
And his drives, which had always ended at distant points in the center of fairways, started ending at the nearest fire hydrant.
He went from the glossy, polycultural, noncontroversial “Cablinasian” golden boy starring in every marketer’s dream to being the dour guy on the front of tabloids wearing the sheepish mask of guilt.
Because he was still the best player in the world, fans tapped into their reservoir of tolerance and forgiveness for his off-course transgressions — he’s only human, after all. But when he started shooting 85s, it became a different story — good grief, this guy is human.
Tiger has bogeyed some important aspects of his life, to be sure, but he never was targeted by such derision until he started chili-dipping wedges from the fringe and spraying tee balls into the forest primeval.
Some columns have called for him to address his failures, to own them, to stop operating on the pretense that he’s just in a slump. Almost as if he owes us all an apology.
Has anybody ever heard that kind of talk from one of the transcendent stars of any sport? They couldn’t have accomplished what they have if they were willing to concede such things, or to expect less of themselves.
That’s especially true with golf, perhaps the most humbling of athletic pursuits.
You have to know that Tiger Woods, even at 39, at a career nadir, is convinced he can martial his skills, and stretch his back out well enough, and master Chambers Bay’s fescue greens, ski-hill terrain and horn-honking freight trains.
And he probably is convinced he can do that all well enough this week to notch major No. 15.
No matter how many of us tell him he hasn’t a chance.