It seemed the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links was set up for Tiger Woods to win with a reprise of his mind-bending performance there in 2000 when he set Open records with a 12-under-par score that lapped the field a few times as he built an unthinkable winning margin of 15 strokes. But that was pre-Thanksgiving when an argument with his now-estranged wife, Elin Nordgren, caused Woods' sordid personal life to come unraveled.
Overcoming all the personal demons that came to light when his multiple affairs were revealed is an enormous mental task that might be beyond even Woods' prodigious ability to focus. When you combine that with the inconsistencies in his swing, it's easy to conclude there is no chance of Woods repeating his 2000 performance.
At 4:36 p.m. Eastern Time, Woods is scheduled to tee off with two-time U.S. Open winner Ernie Els of South Africa and England's Lee Westwood, who is coming off a win at the St. Jude Classic last week in Memphis and who has threatened in several majors over the past three years. It's the marquee group in the afternoon round.
Normally, Woods' power might be enough to overwhelm a short course like the 7,040 layout on the Monterrey Peninsula. But as the early results from the first round have shown, you can't score at Pebble Beach unless your swing is under tight control. Woods' swing is anything but under control lately, and swing coach Hank Haney recently left him.
As Woods heads out from the first tee this afternoon, watch closely to see if he dials down his power and uses shorter clubs off the tees to stay in the fairway. Watch how many greens he hits. At his best, there is no better shotmaker in golf, but it has been awhile since Woods has been at his best.
This might be a year when a lesser light wins the U.S. Open, soneone on the order of a Tom Kite, who won at Pebble. Woods' closest challenger, Phil Mickelson, struggled mightily to finish with a four-over 75 today while Padraig Harrington managed to make a couple birdies on the way in to salvage a 73. They are bombers, but they took a backseat to shorter hitters, and so will Woods if he doesn't gain control of his swing.