Tiger Accordingly Provides Primetime Drama

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2008 U.S. OpenSAN DIEGO -- The throngs gathered on the edge of the Pacific straining to get a glimpse of Tiger Woods never doubted this was his U.S. Open, even when they saw him using a putter and sand wedge as impromptu crutches to get out of a deep greenside bunker.
 
The guy carrying a couple of beers and shouting Get in the hole! as Woods teed off on the fourth hole was a true believer, too.
 
By late afternoon Saturday there were undoubtedly some who thought Woods might actually be able to ace the 448-yard hole.
 
He didnt, but give the guy a break. On the day golf moved into prime time, Woods provided NBC more drama than any dozen screenwriters could have come up with.
 
He celebrated, and he hurt. He laughed, and he almost cried.
 
One moment he was making an eagle so sweet it needed a double-armed fist pump to let mere mortals know just how good it was. The next he was buckled over in agony to let us all know how much pain he was in.
 
And when it was all over he walked off the 18th green with a lead in the U.S. Open so improbable that those dozen scriptwriters would have been laughed at for even suggesting it.
 
Put his name on the trophy because he doesnt lose when he has the lead. Give him his 14th major championship, assuming, of course, that he can manage to walk to the first tee.
 
Heck, throw in an Emmy, too, because this guy is more than ready for prime time.
 
Things came to such a stunning conclusion in the early evening on the Pacific coast that it was hard to tell who was happier afterward.
 
Anyone lucky enough to snare a $100 ticket to watch Woods on the back certainly came away ecstatic. Woods himself was smiling at both the ending and the prospect of some ice on his knee.
 
And NBC executives had to be high-fiving each other for coming up with the idea of showcasing the countrys golf championship in prime time with a featured performance by the most brilliant athlete of his time.
 
Hes the best who ever walked on grass, said Rocco Mediate, who had both the lead and a great view of Woods from behind for most of the day. I cant wait to see what happens tomorrow.
 
Whatever happens couldnt top what transpired during the third round of the Open on a day that merely burnished the legend that is Tiger Woods. It couldnt, because this script has already been acted out, and it turned out to be all so real.
 
A day that started with yet another double bogey on the first hole ended with yet another eagle on the 18th that gave him the lead for the first time. That by itself would have been plenty enough for most players, but Woods has such a sense of drama that he had to throw in some subplots just to make sure no one watching around the country gave in to the temptation of going to bed early.
 
He made 3 on a hole where he should have made 6, and where Phil Mickelson made 9. He nearly fell over a few holes later when his knee buckled on the tee shot but still played the last six holes of a brutal golf course in 4 under par.
 
OK, so it wasnt Ben Hogan coming back from a near fatal car accident to win the 1950 U.S. Open. This was just the third round, and just a gimpy knee that has sidelined him since the Masters.
 
But it was a masterful performance no matter how you look at it.
 
I just keep telling myself, if it grabs me, if I get that shooting pain, I get it, Woods said. But its always after impact. Go ahead and just make the proper swing if I can.
 
The left knee wont be any better Sunday, no matter what the 14 doctors, eight therapists and four masseuses that surely must travel in Woods entourage can do for him before he limps to the first tee. Woods himself admits its gotten worse as the week has gone on. If caddie Steve Williams wasnt handing him clubs to climb out of bunkers with Saturday, he was giving him a hand to get up hills.
 
Woods isnt afraid to show that it hurts, though he has to be prodded to talk about it. He would rather describe the curling 70-footer he made for eagle on No. 13 than the state of his knee.
 
Thats how great athletes react to adversity. They tuck it aside, compartmentalize it and get on with their business.
 
Woods will do just that on Sunday, a day that hell begin with a one-shot lead on Lee Westwood and even more of an advantage over a group of other players not exactly known for making final round charges in majors.
 
Hes never lost a major championship taking a lead into the final round, and hes not likely to do so now as long as he can walk.
 
The only question is how much more drama hell provide in winning this one.
 
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