Coming off the 18th green following a practice round with Mark Calcavecchia, Tiger Woods was mobbed by fans and autograph seekers. Nothing unusual. But this time, one patron broke ranks.
'I was walking off the green, a lot of fans just kind of got on top of me, one guy ran right in front and I stepped on his ankle, and my weight going forward, and his weight coming towards me, just hyper-extended my (left) knee,' said Woods, who also added, 'And then he yelled at me for not signing an autograph.'
After the incident, Woods went to the fitness trailer. The diagnosis? Sprained ligaments. The prognosis? Wait and see.
'I can't hit balls today, no way,' said Woods. '(I'm) a little bit concerned, yes. Because obviously if I can't rotate and can't let it go, then obviously I can't go.'
What seemed improbable - Tiger not defending his title - is now possible. It's also a huge blow to the tournament, especially after what he accomplished in 2000. No, he didn't cure lepers or give sight to the blind, but what he did do was near miraculous.
Last year, Tiger overcame a seven-shot deficit with seven holes to play to win the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Four months later he won the U.S. Open, also contested at Pebble Beach, by a still incomprehensible 15 strokes.
In two events - at one site - golf's greatest furthered his legend to a boundless extreme. Pebble Beach and Tiger Woods. It's like Ruth and Yankee Stadium. Magic and the Forum. It's Showtime.
'I love playing here,' Tiger said. 'I played here once when I was very little and then played here in the State amateur, and came back here and played a couple of times in college here and there. But I've always enjoyed it. I just enjoy being out here, seeing the beauty of it.'
What Tiger has seen in his practice rounds with Calc has been a course that looks everything like it did a February a year ago, and nothing like it did last June.
'It was weird because looking at the golf course, it looks so different than it did in the Open,' said Woods. 'Obviously, the rough was up, most of the fairways were so much more narrow than they are now. They moved the fairways quite a bit for the tournament back to where they normally are for the AT&T.'
Though Tiger couldn't make it to the range, he did meander to the practice putting green where he traded swipes with good friend and Pro-Am partner Jerry Chang.
The scene was similar Tuesday night. Dusk had fallen, yet Woods and Chang were putting away - more in leisure than in work. The only difference between the two was the crowd. Hundreds watched and snapped photos on Wednesday. Tuesday night it was just a handful of passers-by, all of who stopped to ogle, of course, and some of who were rewarded with an autograph.
It's been well documented that putting is the key for Tiger. When he putts well, he wins. Such has not been the case in 2001. Yet Woods isn't trying to change anything on the practice green, he's just trying to get back that magical feeling.
'I don't feel like I'm hitting the ball terrible,' Tiger said. 'I feel I'm hitting it all right, the putts are just grazing the edges. Last week I had 14 lip-outs for birdies in the first two rounds. That's a lot of lip-outs for birdies. Pretty soon, hopefully, they will start diving in.'
And, hopefully, Tiger will at least get the chance to strike those putts come 8:50a.m. PT, when he is scheduled to tee off with Chang, Mark O'Meara and Ken Griffey, Jr., at Spyglass Hill.
News, Notes and Numbers
*Wednesday at Pebble Beach, the PGA Tour officially handed out its 2000 awards. Tiger Woods was given the Nicklaus Award for Player of the Year, the Arnold Palmer Award for seasonal money winner, and the Byron Nelson Award for lowest stroke average. Paul Azinger was awarded the trophy for Comeback Player of the Year. Michael Clark II was given his trophy for Rookie of the Year. And Spike McRoy was honored for being named the 2000 Buy.Com Tour Player of the Year.
*David Duval said he doesn't know if he'll be using the Nike irons he first put in play at last week's Phoenix Open, where he shot rounds of 70-73 to miss the cut. Said Duval: 'I think it's important to use clubs under tournament conditions because you play a little bit differently (than in practice rounds.)' Prior to signing an agreement with Nike, Duval played the Titleist 962B irons.
*Actors Chris O'Donnell and Clint Eastwood won the 3M Celebrity Challenge match. Playing a five-hole alternate-shot skins format, O'Donnell and Eastwood racked-up $15,000 to better the team of actor Kevin Costner and singer Glen Campbell, who won $14,000. The teams of Huey Lewis-Tommy Smothers, Bill Murray-Michael Bolton, Joe Pesci-Clay Walker and Ray Romano-Kevin James were all shutout.
*Don't expect any yo-yo tricks from Tommy Smothers. The noted comedian said he has been told not to use the novelty item during the Pro-Am competition.