Year 2000 seems even further away for Tiger after rocky opening round

Year 2000 seems even further away for Tiger after rocky opening round

Tiger Woods failed to make a birdie during his opening-round 74.
John Biever/SI

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Tiger Woods had just walked the most scenic stretch of Pebble Beach — the glorious uphill sixth, the gorgeous little seventh, the rugged, cliffside eighth — when the difference between his life now and his life at the U.S. Open here 10 years ago was thrown into stark relief. After Woods tugged his driver into the left rough on the par-4 ninth, a man in Woods’s gallery waited for complete silence before turning his attention to Woods.

“It is our business, Tiger, because you made it our business!” shouted the man, who was loudly booed by other members of the gallery.

Woods kept his gaze locked straight ahead and continued his walk off the tee box, but the words seemed to linger in the crisp Pacific air. Woods three-putted the hole for his first bogey of the championship en route to a 3-over-par 74, which left him five shots off the lead.

If any golf course could be a sanctuary to Woods in his post-scandal life, Pebble Beach would be high on the list. Tiger is a native Californian, he attended college up the road at Stanford, and he had maybe his best week of golf at Pebble Beach, where he ran away with a 15-shot win in the 2000 U.S. Open.

So much is different now: Tiger, his game, his fans. He still has rabid supporters — probably more than any golfer including Phil Mickelson — but even the “Go Tiger!” chants sound muted.

While the U.S. Open is examining Tiger’s game in the wake of his scandal, it is also examining the things around him.

“I heard it,” Woods said of the heckler.

Did that have anything to do with the three-putt?

“No,” Woods said. “God, no.”

We’ll never know, of course, but Woods will continue to face hecklers — and questions about them — until he starts winning tournaments again. Woods hasn’t won major since the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines two years ago. His last PGA Tour win? The BMW Championship last September.

This was always going to be a difficult U.S. Open for Woods. What he did here in 2000 was otherworldly and impossible to duplicate. He walked these fairways back then as a golfer at the height of his powers — the best putter, the best scrambler, the best long-iron player, the best short-iron player and, at times, the best driver of a golf ball in the world.

That chapter has long been closed, erased not only by the passage of time but the events therein.

A five-shot deficit in the first round of the U.S. Open is hardly insurmountable, but Woods’s task is herculean this week. Suddenly, he is just another player in the pack. Jack Nicklaus used to say that when he heard players complaining about the setup of a golf course, he could all but eliminate them from contention. Woods fell into that chorus Thursday on a golf course getting tougher by the hour.

“It was so bouncy out there,” Woods said of the greens. “I mean, the greens are just awful. It is what it is.”

In a way it is a surprise to hear Woods talk that way, but then maybe it shouldn’t be.

A drive pulled into the rough. A heckler behind the gallery ropes. On Thursday at the U.S. Open, the year 2000 felt like a long, long time ago.