- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 20, 2009

FARMINGDALE, N.Y.

Lady Luck decided to draw and quarter her favorite son this week at the 109th U.S. Open.

If Tiger Woods doesn’t mount the greatest comeback of his major career at Bethpage Black, nobody will need to ask for an excuse. Mother Nature and the worst draw in recent major history have already supplied him with the ultimate out clause.

It’s hard to feel too sorry for a guy who boasts 14 major titles, but Tiger took an absolute drubbing from this week’s draw.

Not only was golf’s leviathan forced to play the first seven holes of his opening round with a snorkel Thursday, his Friday finish took place on a squishy track in the post-dawn gloom. The sun winked through the clouds moments after Woods sloshed home in 74 strokes, beaming much of the afternoon on the fortunate half of the field that drew late-early tee times.

If you don’t think the late-early group had a major advantage, consider these statistics:

Eleven of the 13 players who posted opening rounds in the 60s and the top six names on the board after the first round came from that half of the draw. The average score from the late-early group was 72.88, or nearly two strokes better than those who started in Thursday’s slop and rolled out of bed about 5 a.m. Friday to finish on the 7,246-yard, par-70 flood plain formerly known as Bethpage Black.

Equally painful for Woods, and the Furyks, Ogilvys and Singhs stuck on the wrong side of the lopsided draw, was that Friday’s late starters also got to turn around and squeeze in a twilight nine on the benign Black course. While Woods was left to stew about his round-closing collapse (double bogey-bogey-par-bogey), leader Lucas Glover (6 under through 31 holes) and the sunshine set enjoyed a virtual walk in the park, attacking a defenseless, soft track on which there wasn’t a whisper of wind.

Conditions were so ideal for the late-early bunch that even a handful of golf ghosts made leader board appearances. World No. 882 David Duval emerged from the crypt to post a 67. Todd Hamilton and his cobwebbed claret jug were 3 under through 28 holes. There was even a Ricky Barnes sighting.

“Our side [of the draw] definitely had a big advantage,” said Weir, a proven mudder (see: 2003 Masters) who used just 25 putts during his blazing opening 64 and finished 4 under through 27 holes before play was suspended. “It [was] perfect conditions. And when you’re playing well, you just want to keep playing.”

Glover, Weir, Barnes (5 under), Peter Hanson (4 under), Adam Scott (2 under), Sean O’Hair (2 under), Phil Mickelson (1 under) and the draw’s other lottery winners will complete their second rounds about 10 a.m. Saturday. That’s just about when meteorologists expect Wave II of this week’s foul weather to descend upon the layout. The nastiness should be just in time to greet Woods, who could be 10 strokes behind the leader when he sticks a peg in the ground for his opening second-round tee shot.

“The way I feel right now, no, I don’t want to go back out there,” said Woods, still simmering over his finish when asked about the imbalance of the draw. “I’d probably be a few clubs light.”

Woods might consider murdering his driver after hitting just seven fairways and posting a pair of double bogeys during his forgettable opening round.

The irony of Woods’ bad luck, of course, is that golf’s 33-year-old icon has spent the better part of his career basking in fortune’s warmest glow. It was Woods who drew the perfect time at the 2000 U.S. Open, posting an early 65 at Pebble Beach and then retiring to his chambers while the rest of the field got lost in the fog. Given a balanced draw on the Monterey Peninsula, he might have only won by 10 strokes.

It was Woods who was the beneficiary of the draw in 2002 at Bethpage. Just ask Garcia.

It was Woods who made 110 feet of eagle putts and chipped in at No. 17 during last year’s third round at Torrey Pines, prompting a couple of sheepish grins at golf’s versions of a net-court winner.

Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be this week. Or maybe Lady Luck is just handicapping the 109th U.S. Open. After all, Woods has never mounted a major comeback en route to any of his 14 Slam conquests. Perhaps fate simply wants to see if he can top last year’s legendary one-legged miracle.


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