Commentary

Second round at U.S. Open proves to be hard work ... and not just for Tiger

Originally Published: November 11, 2008
By Bob Smiley | Special to ESPN.com

ESPN.com contributor Bob Smiley tailed Tiger Woods for the entire 2008 season, chronicling Tiger's triumphs inside the ropes and his own adventures outside them. The following is an exclusive excerpt from his new book, Follow The Roar, available from HarperCollins in bookstores everywhere.

U.S. Open -- Second Round

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Jeff Gross/Getty Images It would be nearly a week after Tiger's second round at the U.S. Open before golf fans would learn how truly remarkable his accomplishment fo winning his 14th major with a torn ACL and a broken leg.
Today is June 13, my wife's birthday. For her, it couldn't have fallen on a worse day. When I tell her I have something planned, I lead with "Well, Tiger tees off around one o'clock ..." Before I can finish, she says, "Oh, this already sounds so romantic." My plan is to take everyone to the beach in La Jolla for a few hours. But as my 2-year-old splashes around in the water, I keep finding myself preoccupied, thinking about Tiger's knee and the pain I saw him try to hide when he teed off on the last hole.

The press didn't miss what I saw and asked Tiger about his drive on 18 when he finished his round.

"It's a little sore," Tiger responded.

I start to imagine the worst possible scenarios ... that what I witnessed was the repaired cartilage coming loose, fluid pooling, infections, pus ... Back in reality, the kite I'm supposed to be flying with my daughter crashes into the sand, nearly taking out a German family. I see the MetLife blimp heading north toward the course and check my watch. Both tell me it's time to go.

1 p.m. -- Tiger starts his day on the back nine, and the only painful thing I notice for the next three hours is the numbers on his scorecard. Four bogeys mixed in with one spectacular eagle, leaving him at 3 over par through 27 holes.

If Tiger has been grimacing, I haven't seen it. But I'm not exactly standing in the front row either. The crowds are thicker today. Walking from the 11th tee to the green, there is no grass to be seen anywhere, just a rippling sea of heads, each of us going only as fast the person in front of us.

My best looks have come from fans who are renting something called Championship Vision, a tiny handheld TV feeding NBC's live coverage. But it's not quite live. The three-second tape delay has left many spectators confused, and long after Tiger's shots are already in the air, a fan can often be heard announcing "Okay, he's about to hit ..."

Yesterday, Rocco Mediate was in the mix. Right now, his lead on Tiger is seven. No fan in good conscience can hate Rocco. At 45, the only thing intimidating about him is his name. A native of Greensburg, PA, just southeast of Pittsburgh, he wears his pants happily pulled up high like I Love Lucy's Fred Mertz, and his scruffy-faced smile disappears only when he turns his head to spit. But Rocco's career has been littered with just as many highs as lows.

After winning at Doral in 1991 and Greensboro in 1993, a ruptured disk and the surgery that followed knocked him out for most of the 1994 season. He clawed his way back to his former level, won the 1999 Phoenix Open and the 2000 Buick Open, then traveled the following week to the PGA Championship, where he sat in a chair, only to have it collapse. Rocco bonked his head on a railing and injured his shoulder, neck, and wrist, ultimately having to withdraw.

His most recent run at a major came at the 2006 Masters, where he was in contention on Sunday when his back problems flared up again. He hit three balls into the water on Augusta's par-3 12th and finished with a round of 80. He's always had the game to contend in a major. He's just never had the luck.

4:05 p.m. -- Tiger has always had both. But that's not what the smashed guy next to me on No. 1 thinks.

"Tiger's done!" Besides the crowds being denser, they are also decidedly drunker, which I attribute to the fact that it's Friday. Most of these people don't have to work tomorrow.

Memory Lane

How impressive was Tiger Woods' victory at the U.S. Open? Besides winning in a playoff against Rocco Mediate, Woods managed to capture arguably golf's most grueling major with a torn ACL and a broken leg.
• Tiger tops Rocco on 91st hole
• Forde: Tiger's win was greatest Open ever
• Haney puts Open No. 1 on Tiger's win list
• Jason Sobel blogged the playoff
• Tiger done for the year with torn ACL

At this rate, this guy won't be able to walk tomorrow. But his assessment of Tiger's situation could be right. Seven shots is a lot of ground to make up, but still within the record Lou Graham set in 1975, when he came from 11 shots back after Friday to win his only U.S. Open.

If Tiger's knee is to blame, and if it's only getting worse, I don't really understand what he's doing here. He's right next to the clubhouse. There would be no shame in removing his cap, shaking hands with his playing partners Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott, and slipping away.

He's scheduled to play the Buick Open in two weeks and the British Open the week after that. To risk making his knee worse and then missing those events just so he can finish in a meaningless tie for 30th here is baffling.

But his hat stays on. He tees up the ball and promptly pushes it way right, over the bunkers and down near the cart path. The crowds have already swarmed the ball, so I raise my periscope as high as it goes and watch from afar. Turns out he's not near the path; he's actually on it, or at least his feet are.

Flanking him on all three sides are beer-guzzling spectators. It looks as if he's hitting the shot out of a sports bar. He takes his swing, and the metal cleats under his left foot slip. He immediately grits his teeth in agony. This is stupid, I think. But as usual, he hasn't asked my opinion. He's just watching the shot.

The ball clears the greenside bunker and lands hole high, 15 feet right of the pin. The crowd cheers, Tiger shakes off the pain and starts walking. He makes the birdie putt as Rocco bogeys the 10th. Tiger is back within five and never once looks at the clubhouse.

4:23 p.m. -- I would have thought the pain would make Tiger take a more gentle approach to the course. Instead, he is now trying to overpower it.

On the short par-4 second, he booms a drive 350 yards, then rams a 25-foot putt into the cup. Back-to-back birdies. His caddy Stevie Williams saddles over to him and gives him a frat boy, congratulatory shove. The push nearly knocks Tiger over, and he hops away on his right foot before reburying the injury. Despite Stevie's best efforts, it seems like Tiger is finding his rhythm for the first time in months.

5:07 p.m. -- After a par on the par-3 third, Tiger birdies the fourth hole for the second straight day, this one a 20-foot putt with the Pacific Ocean making a blue backdrop behind his right-armed fist pump.

But he's still not done. On the fifth hole he makes another birdie. Mickelson pours one in on top of him, which the crowd loves, but there's no question about the story of the day. Tiger's front 9 scorecard now reads 3-3-3-3-3. He's played his opening five holes in 4 under par.

I pass yet another drunk guy. "That's sick," he says, summing up Tiger's play. The stretch has taken him from 3 over to 1 under in just over an hour.

5:59 p.m. -- After Tiger pars Nos. 5 and 6, I run down the downhill, dogleg-right par-4 7th and find a spot 50 up from the green. Tiger has put yet another approach shot within birdie range, 15 feet left of the back-right pin.

The combination of summer heat, heavy drinking, and Tiger's rediscovered game leads the tubby fan next to me to threaten, "If Tiger makes this, I might have to run across the hole naked." Considering the six empty beer cups stacked on top of each other in his hand, I think he's serious.

As Tiger takes his last practice stroke, I've never had a stranger motivation to want a putt to fall.

The chance to see Officer Freymueller, the hulking San Diego cop assigned to Tiger this week, figure out how to arrest a fat naked man without actually touching him would be the perfect finish to an amazing nine holes.

One person is definitely rooting against Tiger: the man sitting at waist level in front of the potential streaker, who says out loud as Tiger draws back his putter:"Please don't make this putt ..." Tiger misreads it, and we groan in disappointment. The drunk guy takes another sip and stumbles away, adding, "You guys are soooo lucky."

6:29 p.m. -- After another par at the eighth, Tiger has a 5-foot putt on the ninth hole for a final birdie and a closing nine of 30. It would be his lowest nine holes in a U.S. Open and only a stroke off the nine-hole U.S. Open record of 29.

Stevie has his bib off again, finally free from that burdensome piece of weightless fabric. He circles the putt with Tiger, making sure his boss doesn't miss something obvious, and then steps away as Tiger approaches his ball. He makes it.

Five under on his second nine and 2 under for the tournament, just one shot off the lead. Tiger waits next to the green, then shakes hands with Mickelson and Scott, both of whom look like they've seen a ghost.

If we can't beat Tiger this week, when can we? Before Tiger started his run, Mickelson and Scott were within a stroke of him. With 36 holes to go, they'll be teeing off three hours before he does.

When not tracking Tiger, Bob Smiley is a TV writer, runs the golf blog Fore Right and is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's golf coverage. He can be reached at bobsmiley77@gmail.com.

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