Monday, June 4, 2012

A Rainbow of Hope for Tiger Woods' Career Awaits at Olympic

"It's been said that Jack's tournament would embrace all that was special about this great game."

Ain't that the truth, Eldrick?

And it must have been written years ago, that Tiger Woods would tie Jack Nicklaus' PGA Tour second-best-to-Sam-Snead's-82 record of 73 wins overall on Jack's home, self-designed course in Columbus, Ohio. That the Golden Bear himself would present El Tigre with his 73rd PGA trophy in person.

Jack said Tiger's chip-in at 16 to take the lead was the best shot he's ever seen.

So let the speculation begin for next week's U.S. Open in San Francisco at the Olympic Club, right?

I've already seen headlines...

Tiger Woods is back and better than ever
Tiger Woods is ready to resume major title hunt
Comeback will sidetrack Tiger Woods at U.S. Open
Tiger Woods will murder the game to excellence in Sanny Fran

OK I made the last one up, but seriously, all this speculation is awesome. I love that the sports writing broz of the vast and abysmal, say-whatever-you-want-whenever-you-want realm are writing about Tiger again. But for me, I'm going to let Tiger write this one himself.

But I won't ignore the facts and history.

There are only 12 registered golfers out of the 76 already-qualified players in the field that have three exemptions: Keegan Bradley, K.J. Choi, Jason Day, Luke Donald, Matt Kuchar, Rory McIllroy, Geoff Ogilvy, Louis Oothuizen, Charles Schwartzel, Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods, and Y.E. Yang.

Tiger's exemption code for next week reads 1, 7, 13, meaning he's won the U.S. Open Championship in the last 10 years (2002-11) (1), he's won the PGA of America Championship in the last five years (2007-11) (7) and he ranks in the Top 60 point leaders and ties from the current World Rankings as of May 21, 2012 (13).

Surprisingly, his exemption code is easily the strongest.

Some notables that have just two exemptions: Patrick Cantlay (world's #1 amateur), Jason Dufner, Sergio Garcia, Hunter Mahan, Graeme McDowell, Adam Scott, and Lee Westwood.

I'll be looking for Golf Boy Hunter Mahan to rise above the rest of this group. His play has been the most consistent, and having your face on the cover of the latest U.S. Open Golf Magazine preview edition never hurts.

Some notables who have just one exemption: Michael Campbell, Ben Crane, Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler, Trevor Immelman, Zach Johnson (aka Golf Logix), Ian Poulter, and Vijay Singh.

Can't really pick out a favorite in this group, but I'm definitely an Ian Poulter fan. I actually bumped into all 6-6 of him in Orlando at the NBA All-Star Game in February.

The dunk competition had just ended. I was done pursuing my story for the night and was waiting for my great bro/favorite basketball player ever, Marqus Blakely, and his crew to get downtown. I decided to check out the hotel bar where all the stars had rooms booked. Lo and behold Ian was standing next to Chris Brown's Grammy dancers (I have a challenge for you: play this Chris Brown performance and try to envision peace on earth. Not. Happening.), waiting for his car(s) at the valet when I walked up to the entrance of the Grand Bohemian Hotel. He pulled away in a Ferrari with one of his broz following him in a Bentley which he obviously controlled financially as well. All I managed to say was, "You are the man," from a distance under my breath.

Side note, I made it inside to the bar area, no cover, got a drink, looked to my left, and saw Chase Budinger, standing by the bar talking with his agent and what looked like some family. I had to go up and say something. Anything to quell the praying hooker that was flattering me to buy her neat pours.

"Writers make a lot of money, right? Buy me a drink."

"Some do, not me, yet, but, please, here's ten dollars for a drink, please, go talk to the combined 450 pounds of Russian mobsters sitting at the table behind us. I need to go introduce myself to the 6-8 blonde bro who fooled America two hours ago."

"Dude, we all knew you could see under that blindfold!"

"It's want a drink, bro?"

I'd love to see Ernie Els in the hunt late next Friday; this year could be his last chance. And Golf Boy Rickie Fowler got a good scaring at the Memorial, paired up with Tiger on Sunday. Perhaps those frets will churn into a nice buttery smooth bravado of birdies for the Walking Highlighter.

Either way, it's all up in the air next week at the Olympic in San Francisco. And speaking of up in the air, I was playing a round of golf yesterday with some good broz as we noticed a rainbow in the sky...

As Nick and Mark combined for the greatest instagram I've ever seen, I couldn't help but think of the legend of Payne Stewart.

At the Olympic Club in San Francisco, headed into Sunday with a four-stroke lead, Stewart ended up losing the 1998 U.S. Open to one of his greatest rivals, Lee Jansen. Stewart came back the next year, though, and using his driver just once all week, fended off, in the rain, on Father's Day, a young Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, David Duval, and Vijay Singh to win the U.S. Open by one stroke with a 15 foot birdie putt on 18 at Pinehurst. It was immediately said to have been and by most still is the greatest triumph in U.S. Open history.

Traumatically, months later, in October of the same year, Stewart was killed in a small plane accident. Ever since, the frame of Stewart's fist pump from 18 at Pinehurst in 1999 would forever remain one of the greatest photos in golf history.

The following season, Tiger won the 2000 Memorial and went on to win the U.S. Open the next week. It was the last time Woods won at the Memorial, and it would mark the beginning of his (and golf's) one and only Consecutive Grand Slam (winning all four majors consecutively during the span of two calendar years).

No one in the modern era of pro golf has ever completed the Grand Slam in one calendar year. Ben Hogan did it in 1930, before the modern era, when the U.S. Amateur Championship was the first Major of the year. The Masters replaced the Amateurs in 1934, which also marked the beginning of the modern era of professional golf.

Tiger didn't just win his first U.S. Open (the tournament's 100th, his fifth try) at Pebble Beach that year, he won by 15 stokes, dominating the competition with a fury only the white waves of the Pacific smashing against Spyglass' jagged landscape could impersonate. Tiger finished 12 under, the only player to finish under par. The closest players behind him were Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez at plus three.

And now, 12 years later, Tiger Woods is looking to win a Major tounrnament not by 15 stokes, but for the 15th time. I can't help but think that he'll be remembering 2000. When just before the tournament of his life commenced, coming off a victory at Memorial, 21 golfers hit drives into the Pacific Ocean as a salute to Payne Stewart's U.S. Open legacy. A 21 gun salute it was equated to. Rainbows were present all week in the sky that year. Double rainbows. Payne Stewart looking down on his favorite game...

I have no idea who will win at Olympic next week. Golf has been more wide open this year than Bubba Watson's arms for his son after he won the Masters. But one thing is for sure: Tiger Woods has history, statistics and spirits by his side. And if he wins, well, damn.

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