Where we are now is where we were exactly five years ago: a time of fear.
Ominous, Colin Montgomerie said of Tiger Woods position atop the leaderboard after the first round of the 134th Open Championship.
I played with him a few days ago and he was birdying every other hole, said Fred Couples. When he plays like that
It was Thursday ' Thursday! And he had a two-stroke lead ' two strokes! And yet players were reacting as if they had been given a death sentence and they were just awaiting execution on Sunday.
The tone was gloomier than the bruised Scottish skies after the conclusion of Round 2.
People are scared to say it, but its true: If hes playing well, were all playing for second, said Mark Hensby.
No, Mark, players werent sacred to say it. They were, in fact, quite open about it. They were just scared of Tiger.
If Tiger plays the way Tiger is capable of playing, its over, said Monty, who was just four back of Woods and playing alongside him in the final group on Saturday. We know that; you know that.
Obviously, the whole tournament depends on Tiger, added Darren Clarke.
Ernie Els, the No. 3 player in the world, was begging for weather assistance to hinder Woods, not believing his talents were enough to make up eight shots over two days.
After beating Woods by a stroke head-to-head in the third round, and closing to within three of the lead entering the final round, Montgomerie said: Its probably not enough. It will be an awesome task to overtake Tiger from three shots down.
This from a man who had won seven consecutive Order of Merit titles and was playing before one of the most partisan crowds in major championship history? He sounded more like a self-deprecating Rich Beem before the final round of the 2002 PGA Championship.
Defeating Tiger Woods from arrears is an awesome task. But its not Mission: Impossible.
This isnt meant to imply that Woods is no longer worthy of issuing a great measure of apprehension and trepidation. He most certainly is. But apparently what he did 3-5 years ago still weighs heavily in his peers minds. Those past performances have immensly enhanced his present perception.
Woods has earned a great deal of respect. But that respect should not be immeasurable. At least it shouldnt have been before this events conclusion.
When players were speaking gravely after the first two rounds this week, they werent thinking about how Tiger nearly blew this years Masters or how he did blow this years U.S. Open; they were thinking about St. Andrews 2000, and the damage done.
Woods inflicted such deep psychological scars on his peers in the first few years of this decade that they may never fully heal ' particularly with what he did in the 2000 U.S. Open and Open Championship.
Just as many in the field feared, Woods proved insurmountable this week. But, unlike five years ago, when he shot a major record 19 under par and prevailed by eight strokes, he wasnt unbeatable.
Tiger left open the door to defeat this time. He could only manage a 1-under 71 on Saturday, cutting his four-stroke overnight advantage in half. And on Sunday, he missed a pair of birdie putt inside of 6 feet on Nos. 7 and 8. He was only 1 under on his round through the first eight holes, yet no one was able to so much as tie him for the lead.
This Sunday was quite reminiscent to that of three years ago at Augusta National, when six of the top seven players in the world comprised the top six spots on the leaderboard through 54 holes of the Masters Tournament.
For fans, there was great anticipation, great excitement. And ultimately, great disappointment.
Woods, who shared the third-round lead with Retief Goosen, shot 1-under 71 that day and still won by three strokes.
This time it was a two-stroke lead at the beginning of play for Woods, with the likes of Jose Maria Olazabal, Montgomerie, Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia, U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell and Vijay Singh all giving chase.
And this time it was a 2-under 70 and a five-stroke victory.
From a fans perspective: more great anticipation, more great excitement, and more great disappointment.
All things equal, it would have taken a 68 by Olazabal, a 67 by Monty and Goosen, a 66 by Garcia, and a 65 by Campbell and Singh ' just to tie him.
'Well, it's hard,' Olazabal said of trying to beat a front-running Woods on Sunday of a major championship. 'Nothing's impossible. But it's close.'
But what would have happened if just one of them ' just one ' had applied some pressure to Woods? What would have happened if Monty, with that overwhelming crowd support, had tied Woods, or even surpassed him?
How would Woods have handled the pressure coming home ' had there been any?
He certainly didnt manage the situation well on 17 and 18 in regulation at the Masters, in which he bogeyed both holes. And he struggled down the stretch at Pinehurst, bogeying 16 and 17.
Well never know, because it never happened. Because too many players believed it could never happen.
Woods led by two at the turn, shot even par on the back side, and still won by five.
Olazabal and Montgomerie, each of whom got within one of Woods at some point during the final round, both closed in 3-over 39.
'There's no disgrace finishing second to the best player in the world,' said Montgomerie after shooting even-par 72.
Certainly not. But Mongtomerie and so many others had relegated themselves to second place after Day 1.
It can be said that many in the field were mentally defeated after the first round. But the origins of this loss can be traced back five years.
Woods has now finished first-second-first in the three major championships this season.
You think they were scared before? After this victory they are no longer dealing with a lingering nightmare dreamt years ago. They are once again dealing with the Boogeyman himself.
They now have good reason to fear.
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