USGA gives fans what they want


That’s how most golf fans Thursday morning will feel as Tiger
Woods returns to the game some two months after knee surgery to one of the biggest
stages imaginable: a Thursday U.S. Open group with Phil Mickelson in Southern
California, home turf for both players.

And what a strange two months it’s been. Before the Masters,
2008 truly was the year of the Tiger. We watched him win
tournament after tournament. We listened to him say the grand slam was within reach. We
wondered if he’d break Byron Nelson’s 11 straight PGA Tour victories. Then
Tiger came in second to Trevor Immelman at the Masters and almost immediately
afterward had knee surgery that put him on the shelf until this week.

What happened next was an audition for PGA Tour’s Most
Appealing Young Star: Non-Tiger Division (wins by Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Anthony Kim, Boo Weekley), punctuated
by a big win by Phil at the Colonial. Really, what can you make of a stretch
where the hottest player is Kenny Perry and he doesn’t even try to qualify for
the U.S. Open?
Thursday marks a return to normalcy, if that’s what you can
call Tiger, Phil and Adam playing together. The grouping brings a touch
of Hollywood glamour to a sport that desperately
needs it. Give the USGA a lot of credit for this. Often maligned as a collection
of Dr. Evils, sadists who use their high position to bring arrogant Tour pros
to their knees, the USGA is breathing life into the game with the selection of
municipal courses (Torrey Pines will be followed by Bethpage Black in 2009),
fascinating Thursday and Friday groupings (I’m skipping the Tiger-Phil circus
to watch Furyk-Stricker-Choi and Kim-Romero-Imada), and the prime-time
finale--ending about 9 p.m. on the East Coast.

Sounds like the game is putting the fans first. Finally.

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by Kevin Cunningham