June 13, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; Tiger Woods tees off on the 16th hole during the practice round of the 112th U.S. Open golf tournament at The Olympic Club. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
Is Tiger Woods back? He's relaxed and ready for the U.S. Open, but we'll have to wait and see what it means as play gets underway on Thursday.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Tiger Woods looked calm and relaxed as he went through his final preparations ahead of the U.S. Open, a far cry from his constant battle with his swing at The Masters. For the most part, his golf swing looks sound, and he seems comfortable with where he's at in the process. And who could blame him?
After all the struggles and frustration, things finally came together for Tiger on the back-nine at The Memorial. With Jack Nicklaus watching on, Woods put the dagger in to win his final tune-up before the U.S. Open. He did so in impressive style -- an impossible chip-in on the par-3 16th and three birdies in four holes are a solid way to build momentum.
If there is such a thing as momentum following a nearly two-week layoff, Tiger has it. But still, the "Tiger's back" rhetoric rings hollow, despite a win at Jack's tournament, just as it did after his win at Bay Hill. He's moving in the right direction, but, as always, it doesn't mean a thing until he's back to his major-winning ways.
It'd be easy to compare this week to Tiger's Augusta National experience this year. Like now, he was coming off a win, and the hype was back. But, as we found out over the course of four days at The Masters, Tiger still wasn't back; instead he spent his time fighting his swing and cussin' like a sailor.
It just feels different this time around, though. There's a calm about him that's hard to explain. He looks at ease, at peace with where he's at heading into the year's second major. He spent the past two days playing relaxed practice rounds with Casey Martin, checking out the court in bite-sized portions -- playing a little bit here and a little bit there.
Maybe it was the way Tiger won at The Memorial. Perhaps it was a reminder that, yes, he's still capable of ripping off a streak of unbelievable holes to close a tournament. Maybe he needed that for himself, perhaps finding his mental edge once more.
Or maybe this is all a facade again.
The beauty of the game, and of following Tiger Woods at this stage of his career, is the unknown. It's equally frustrating and intriguing to watch him battle himself, looking more human than ever. But you just get the feeling that at some point he's going to break through again in a major, sooner rather than later.
Heading into the first round of the U.S. Open at the difficult Olympic Club, Tiger is, as always, the focus. It's time to see if he can deliver, bringing with him the roars and excitement in a major championship.