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Favorite or not, Tiger Woods is Open focus

Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the

Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the par 4 17th hole during the final round of the Memorial Tournament. (June 3, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

There are a few sure things heading into the U.S. Open at San Francisco's Olympic Club this week: Tiger Woods is sure to be confident, coming off his exhilarating win last Sunday at the Memorial. Woods is sure to be the focus and the favorite. And it is certain that a win for Woods is no sure thing.

You can list many reasons why Woods will win a major for the first time since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. But you can list as many reasons why he won't.

For starters, there is the fact that he was in almost the same position heading in the Masters. He had won a big icon-hosted tournament and was headed to a course on which he had thrived. A win for Woods seemed like a near lock. But he was not in contention, and had some really bad moments, one that prompted him to kick his club.

Then again, he looked different in winning Jack Nicklaus' Memorial last week than he had in winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.

"He didn't hit any wild shots," said Hank Haney, who knows Woods' game as well as anyone does, having been his swing coach. "He hit a couple at Arnie's tournament -- a couple out of bounds and another one that would have been out of bounds, but it hit the fence. But at Jack's tournament, he hit really no bad shots."

The point is, you just don't know. You can't compare any major to a regular tournament. You can't compare March and June. You can't compare Woods of 2012 to the Woods of 2002.

What makes this Open so intriguing is that Woods is coming off such a dramatic win, featuring a stunning flop shot that seemed to take the air out of the rest of the field, yet he also is coming off such a long major drought.

A victory under his belt did not help him at Augusta, but it never hurts him, Haney said during a clinic and book signing this week at Golfsmith in Lake Grove.

"There is momentum for everyone, without a doubt. I always felt better when Tiger had won a tournament going into a major," Haney said. "At least to a certain extent, it took a little pressure off. If he hadn't won, everybody would have been questioning him, 'What about your game?' So, yeah, momentum definitely helps. He's not any different than anybody else. He wants to be confident, he wants to feel good about his swing and how he is doing.

"But in golf courses, you can't get much different than Olympic . Jack's courses are very wide, they are very forgiving. Plus, it rained, so it made the fairways even wider. And nothing compares to a U.S. Open," he said.

After he won with a charge down the stretch last Sunday, overcoming a two-stroke deficit with four holes to play, Woods said, "I'm excited because of the way I hit the golf ball this week. I hit the ball really well. At Olympic we're all going to have to hit the ball great there. That golf course, you can look at the history of guys who were in contention or who ended up winning, all were wonderful drivers of the golf ball and good, solid iron players. That's what it's going to take there at Olympic, more so than most U.S. Open sites."

Oddsmakers have made him the 5-to-1 favorite to win and he will be the center of attention, despite playing his first two rounds in an all-star threesome with Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Bubba Watson.

It is Woods who will attract television viewers and Woods who will draw crowds, much more so than defending champion Rory McIlroy. The latter showed Woods-like dominance at Congressional last June, but has struggled lately, which does not necessarily mean he will struggle this week.

"Everyone except for Tiger goes through cycles," Haney said. "Tiger was so consistent, he was always right there. It's not easy to get to the top, and it's even harder to stay there. It's a fine line, even at the highest level. Rory was off to an incredible start, then he had a little dip. But he'll have another run. It might even start this week. It's just a hard game."

It's a hard game to figure, or predict.

New York Sports