SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The roars began for Tiger Woods the moment he got to the top of the stairway on the way to the first tee. A glimpse of him in his lime green shirt was all it took to send the fans at Olympic Club into a frenzy.
This was supposed to be the day he pulled away in the U.S. Open, the day he used his clubs to proclaim that the chase of Jack Nicklaus was officially back on. That’s the way it usually worked on Saturdays in the 14 majors he won before his life and game fell apart and he was left with the daunting task of rebuilding both.
The crowd was primed, and so was Woods. Both had good reason to be, after two days of near perfection left him tied on top of the leaderboard with 36 holes to play.
What no one _ especially Woods _ knew was the mess that would lie ahead.
His pulled his tee shot on the first hole into the rough and made bogey. By the time he had reached the ninth hole he had made three more.
He hit trees with a driver in his hand, missed greens with a wedge in his hand. The pristine shots of the last two days gave way to an assortment of clunkers and chunkers that seemed to leave him bewildered _ if not embarrassed.
A kid who couldn’t win his high school state tournament a few weeks ago beat him by five shots. An Englishman with a long record of futility in major championships bested him by eight.
And just when he thought he couldn’t get any worse, Woods plowed squarely into a photographer as he walked angrily up the hill to the scoring area, shaking his right hand as though he injured it against a camera.
He offered little in the way of explanation, though Woods rarely gives any insight into his game. Something about greens that didn’t roll the way he thought they would, and yardages that never seemed to match the club he wanted to hit.
It was more than that, of course, though maybe Woods didn’t want to admit it. Confidence can be a fragile thing for any player, much less one who has to live up to the very expectations he created during his prime.
He was shaky off the first tee, shaky on the 18th green, when he chunked a chip for one final bogey. On the day when Olympic Club played its easiest, he played his worst.
Only eight players in the field scored worse than his 5-over 75, but that wasn’t the ugliest statistic. Thirteen players passed him on the leaderboard, leaving him five shots back with little hope of making some birdies Sunday on a course where birdies are rare.
About the only good thing that could be said about his round was that he threw only one club _ and it didn’t go far.