Expectations return before Tiger does

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The expectations came back before Tiger Woods did.

For the longest time, there was a sense of inevitability about Woods when he was in front going into the weekend at a major championship. Eight times he had the outright lead after 36 holes, and eight times he went on to win, a streak that Y.E. Yang finally ended in 2009 at the PGA Championship.

The circumstances were slightly different Saturday at the U.S. Open.

This was the first time Woods has shared the lead at a major going into the third round, and the other leaders have some experience.

Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open nine years ago at Olympia Fields, where he had a chance to set the 72-hole scoring record until meaningless bogeys on the last two holes. David Toms is 11 years removed from his lone major at the PGA Championship, though not quickly forgotten is the resolve he showed. With the gallery one-sided in its support of Phil Mickelson, Toms laid up on the 18th hole at Atlanta Athletic Club and made a 12-foot par to win.

The other difference?

This is 2012.

Woods removed his cap on the putting green Thursday, revealing an increasingly receding hair line. That was always going to be a losing battle, though it was a subtle reminder that Woods is not the 24-year-old who completed the career Grand Slam at St. Andrews, nor was this the 30-year-old who won consecutive majors.

He is 36.

He has gone through four operations on his left knee.

He has gone through public scrutiny of a very private life.

In some respects, this week could be the start of a new era for Woods, who will always be compared against his old era.

This business of the “new Tiger” looking like the “old Tiger” needs to stop, for no other reason than the new Tiger is older. For all this talk about whether Woods is really back, he has won two times this year on the PGA Tour, and that’s as many as anyone else. Woods won five times in 2003 and it used to be called a slump because it didn’t include a major championship.

So now Woods is among the leaders going into the third round at The Olympic Club, and the expectations are that he will win the U.S. Open for a record-tying fourth time, and finally get to his 15th major in his delayed pursuit of Jack Nicklaus.

Woods‘ mother is at Olympic this week, and she rarely goes anywhere but the Masters and Honda Classic, her new home. Maybe she’s onto something.

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