U.S. Open: Tiger going for repeat
By Doug Ferguson
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. ó Tiger Woods is defending his title at the U.S. Open and his turf at Bethpage Black.
Twenty years have passed since Curtis Strange became the last player to win back-to-back in the U.S. Open, the longest current drought among the four majors. Woods will have a chance for the third time this decade.
It has been even longer since a U.S. Open champion tried to repeat on a golf course where he was the last player to win. That was Jack Nicklaus in 1973 at Oakmont, where his hopes ended when Johnny Miller shot 63 in the final round to win.
Such a score is unlikely at Bethpage Black, a stout test even when the U.S. Open is not in town. No one shot better than 66 in 2002, and Woods was the only player to finish under par, winning by three shots over Phil Mickelson.
But going back to the Black has made his odds of repeating better than ever.
“Bethpage feeds right into his game,” Strange said. “It eliminates even more players in the field than most Opens because it’s a long, hard golf course. After his performance last week, and all the skeptics writing him off, I think he’s a heavy, heavy favorite.”
Typical of Woods, plenty of history is at stake when the 109th U.S. Open gets under way Thursday.
He is trying to tie the record with a fourth U.S. Open title, and join Willie Anderson from a century ago as the only players to win the national championship four times in a decade.
A victory would also give him a Grand Slam of repeats. Woods already has won back-to-back in the Masters (2001-02), British Open (2005-06) and twice in the PGA Championship (1999-2000 and 2006-07).
Bobby Jones (U.S. Open and British Open) and Walter Hagen (British Open and PGA Championship) are the only other players who have repeated in more than one major.
Strange has been fielding questions about his distinction since 2001, and he is surprised it has been 20 years since a repeat.
“It’s not so much what I did, it’s what others didn’t do,” he said. “I certainly expect Tiger to do it because of how good he is. At the same time, Nicklaus didn’t do it.”
That Woods is in position to go for a repeat U.S. Open title is still hard to believe.
In what he called “probably the best ever” of his 14 majors, Woods won last year at Torrey Pines despite a double stress fracture in his left leg and shredded ligaments in his left knee, an injury so severe that he required season-ending surgery a week later.
Limping and wincing over the weekend on a knee so swollen that he couldn’t see his kneecap at the end of each day, Woods made two eagles on the back nine Saturday to take the lead, made a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday to force a playoff, then rallied again before finally beating Rocco Mediate in 19 holes.
“What he did to get there was silly,” Mediate said. “But it’s Tiger. That’s what he does. That’s why he’s the best.”
His return after an eight-month absence is going slower than he imagined, and Woods was forced to lower his expectations. Even so, he has gone 17 consecutive starts in stroke play without finishing out of the top 10, and he goes to Bethpage having won the Memorial with a 65 in the final round and his most accurate performance off the tee in 11 years.
He doesn’t believe knee surgery slowed his march toward Nicklaus’ record 18 majors, rather helped in the long run.
“It’s five to pass him, four to tie him,” Woods said. “That’s a lot. Most of the guys in my generation haven’t won more than three, so it’s quite a challenge.”