Lefty holds all the aces as Tiger revival set to stay on ice
THEY share the same initials, TW. Both went to Stanford University and count an iconic US Open victory at Pebble Beach among the many Majors they have won.
Yet a cold and stony silence separated Tiger Woods and Tom Watson atop the so-called Cliffs of Doom when the two most talismanic figures for this year's US Open were caught in a lengthy logjam on the 10th tee during practice for today's first round.
Watson (60) made his feelings plain about Tiger's persistent cursing and club-throwing in a series of media interviews last January, saying Woods would need to clean up his act whenever he returned to the fairways and show more humility to the public.
While Woods humbly acknowledged last April at Augusta the need to mend some of his old ways, genuine humility might have persuaded him to break the ice with Watson on the 10th tee, shake his hand and, heaven forbid, concede the older man had been right in what he'd said.
Yet some things don't change. Tiger Woods doesn't do self-doubt or ever back down. The predator still lies within, waiting for the day when his golf game is good enough to make him a winner once again.
It's not there yet. Nobody expects Tiger to recapture the glories of his mould-breaking 2000 US Open victory at Pebble Beach, but simply winning a Major in a more-usual way is beyond him right now.
Woods might achieve mastery over his golf ball in time for next month's British Open at St Andrews. However, his recent performances at Quail Hollow, Sawgrass and even Memorial, where he finished in a tie for 20th, strongly suggest his ball striking has not recovered sufficiently to allow him hit and hold enough of Pebble Beach's tiny, granite-hard greens to make a real impact on this year's US Open.
Ironically, Watson probably is better equipped right now to answer the questions posed by this very special golf course, though Old Tom is likely to face another reality check on that 10th tee today as he greets his playing companions in the first round, Ryo Ishikawa (18) and Rory McIlroy (21).
"I'm sure he'll be feeling pretty old when he gets on the tee," McIlroy suggested impishly, quickly adding that Watson "nearly won last year's British Open at Turnberry and if he plays as well this week he's got a great chance."
There's sound logic behind McIlroy's words. Though it's been extended to 7,040 yards for this year's tournament, Pebble Beach is short by recent US Open standards and is playing so hard and fast even players of modest length will fancy their chances.
McIlroy is hoping for still weather to allow him hit high and parachute his ball on to those greens. Watson wants ocean breezes to blow and the older man's prayers are more likely to be answered.
Woods, meanwhile, will do well to come out on top in his three-ball over the first 36 holes. He plays with last Sunday's St Jude Classic winner Lee Westwood and Ernie Els, who ended a two-year drought on the PGA Tour with a splendid spring double at Doral and Bay Hill.
Masters champion Phil Mickelson is best-equipped of all the leading contenders, including his friend and playing companion here Padraig Harrington, to mark his 40th birthday yesterday with a breakthrough win at his national Open.
Mickelson has finished second a record five times at the US Open. Yet with such little pressure on driving this week and so much emphasis on the short game, 'Lefty' has a wonderful chance to boost his haul of Majors to five; complete the first two legs of a potential Grand Slam and knock Woods off the top of the world rankings next Sunday.
Though he has recovered from recent keyhole surgery on his right knee, Harrington's form has been too erratic to inspire confidence. This leaves recent winners McIlroy and fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell as the most likely contenders among the record five Irish raiders, which includes US Open debutants Gareth Maybin and 19-year-old amateur Kevin Phelan from Waterford.
Maybin was in upbeat mood for today's challenge after being joined in his rented house last night by a group of old Mobile college friends, including former room-mate Eamonn Coghlan Jnr, son of Ireland's former World Champion athlete and now a teaching pro at Azalea City, Alabama.
Maybin (29) already has one reason for remembering this week after proposing to his long time girlfriend Liz McMeekin on Tuesday night in a little cabin on a wooded peninsula overlooking the Pacific. "It was quite romantic. I'm delighted she said yes."
Nice to know some people were talking to each other by the ocean.