With the U.S. Open beginning Thursday, though, the thought of Woods going undefeated has been left behind.
And the only player with a chance at the Grand Slam?
Thats Trevor Immelman.
So while Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott, the top three players in golf, tee off in a rare glamour threesome at Torrey Pines, Immelman will be in a much quieter pairing later in the day: himself, Zach Johnson and Mike Weir'the last three players to win the Masters not named Woods or Mickelson.
A fantastic pairing, Immelman said of the Woods-Mickelson-Scott threesome. Ill probably be watching some of it before I tee off. But theres a whole host of players that have a great chance on this course.
Immelman is one of them. Not only does he have the confidence of Augusta behind him, he also has the memory of winning one of his first big tournaments, the U.S. Amateur Public Links, right here at Torrey Pines in 1998.
If only the Torrey Pines of 10 years ago was the same that the players will see this week.
Make no mistake, this is a seriously difficult golf course, Immelman said. But its fairly set up, from what Ive seen the last couple of days.
It is long'at 7,643 yards, the longest course in major championship history.
But the USGA has given itself some flexibility, too, having placed multiple tee boxes on a number of holes to add options if the wind is blowing or the rough gets out of control or the greens become too much.
Or all three.
USGA officials are at least talking like theyre trying to change this year.
We wanted to keep it the hardest championship in golf, said Mike Davis, the senior director of rules and competition. But we wanted to introduce risk and reward, and widen the scoring opportunities. Youll have a chance to make birdies, but if you dont execute the shot, you can make bogeys or worse. We just want to get them thinking more.
To improve chances for a fantastic finish, the likes of which have been missing from U.S. Opens of the recent past, Davis persuaded his USGA compatriots not to turn the 18th hole into a long par-4.
Instead, it remains a par-5, reachable at 573 yards, but with a pond guarding the left half of the green and no grass to hold balls that land in front and spin backward.
Someone in desperation mode come Sunday might try to go for that green.
It really makes you think, Immelman said. Youve got to decide if youre going to for it or lay up. If you hit it over the back and get a bad lie, you can chip it in the water easily. Its going to be a fantastic finishing hole.
Not his fault, but the final round of Immelmans Masters victory was completely devoid of drama.
He took a two-shot lead into the last day, expanded it to as much as six, and even though he hit his tee shot into the water on the par-3 16th, he averted disaster there, then finished with a pair of safe pars to beat Woods by three.
After that, life changed for Immelman, and he says he just tried to go with the flow.
If Im going to be brutally honest with you, Id say the reason is that two or three weeks after, I think youre trying to convince everybody else that youre fine, Immelman said. But I never for one second said that. I mean, I was absolutely smoked afterward.
As it turned out, Woods was, too. A nagging problem with his knee became too much to handle, so he shut it down and had surgery to clean out cartilage. Suddenly, the player who extended his streak to six straight victories worldwide at the start of the season and was at least a decent bet to win all four majors wasnt playing at all.
The U.S. Open will mark his first competitive round since Sunday at the Masters. The last time he took that kind of break was two years ago, also at the U.S. Open. In the aftermath of his fathers death, he missed the cut in a major for the first and only time.
I just dont see how its going to have a negative effect on him, Mickelson said of the Woods injury.
Despite the injury, Woods was listed as a 5-2 favorite. Mickelson was next at 7-1. Well down the list was Immelman, at 33-1, even though hes coming off a second-place finish last week at the St. Jude Championship, where he lost in a playoff to Justin Leonard.
A longshot indeed. But hes been in this spot before.
The thing you take with you is that youve done it before, Immelman said. Thats always comforting, to know youve won on the biggest stage.