The last time the tournament was held at Pebble in 2000, Tiger left everyone in his dust, smoking his competitors and going wire to wire to win in dominant fashion.
But I suspect that won't happen this year, for several reasons.
Much has been reported about the hitch in Tiger's swing. He was all over the course during Sunday's final round at the Masters in April, and has gone downhill ever since. One tournament, he even pulled out, citing injury. But this is the U.S. Open, folks. And Tiger Woods knows how to win. Yet even if he conquers his swing demons, there's one superpower that he no longer has — the stare.
Books have been written about the golfer's intensity — the zone Tiger enters on Sunday to win championships and bury his opposition. It's almost as if he steps into a netherworld, one where his opponents cower and crumble under the same pressure.
But in the wake of Tiger's trysts, his intimidation factor is now no more. Think about it: Mere mortal pro golfers would look at the pre-addiction Tiger as a professional who had it all together, in every facet of his life. He had mastered the image of money, fame, a model wife and perfect kids. There were no kinks in Tiger Woods. He had no weaknesses, no pressure points that revealed a human existed under those red Nike shirts. Until the fall ...
Today, pro golfers view Tiger as definitely more of a man, someone who's fallible, weak and prone to failure, in golf as he was in his private life. That mental toughness and the invincibility it projected are now gone. Whether Tiger still possesses "the stare" no longer matters. Opponents know he can be beaten, and their mental game is tougher as a result.
Watch carefully this week if the Tiger mojo has left him entirely. One thing is certain. Even if his game has returned, Tiger's mental-intimidation weapon will never be the same again. How he uses his other talents to compensate for that loss will be the mark of a true, tested champion.