Demoralizer to Demoralizing


2010 U.S. OpenTiger Woods did more than win in a 15-shot romp at Pebble Beach the last time the U.S. Open was played there a decade ago.

He demoralized a generation of players.

Paul Azinger said he felt sorry for the young players entering the game with Woods because they would never know what it’s like to have a chance to be No. 1.

“He’s probably the most dominant athlete in the history of sports,” Azinger said at the time.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' 2000 U.S. Open romp was the first of four consecutive major victories. (Getty Images)
Woods did more than beat up his competition at Pebble Beach. He beat them down. He began knocking the confidence out of one challenger after another in the unprecedented run of four consecutive major championship triumphs Woods started that week.

With the U.S. Open returning to Pebble Beach this week, the buzz around Woods is considerable again, this time over the demoralizing effect a sex scandal is having on the state of Woods’ game and life. The story today is the lack of confidence Woods may be experiencing, and the confidence his competition is gaining.

It’s possible, for the first time in 262 consecutive weeks, that Woods could leave Pebble Beach without his No. 1 ranking.

Phil Mickelson doesn’t even have to win to take the top spot from Woods. He can do it with a tie for third if Woods misses the cut this week.

Oddsmakers haven’t shown this little confidence in Woods in 13 years.

For the first time since Woods won the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, there are oddsmakers who don’t have Woods listed as the favorite in a major he's playing.

Skybet makes Phil Mickelson this week’s favorite at 7-to-1 with Woods at 7½-to-1. Bookmakers Betfred and Coral also make Mickelson their favorites. Ladbrokes makes Woods and Mickelson co-favorites at 8-to-1, the highest odds on Woods in 13 years.

It’s enough to make today’s players want to pull aside all these twentysomethings on the rise this season to make sure they understand the historic turn of events. Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler (not in this week's field) and Ryo Ishikawa are enjoying a window, perhaps just temporary, where they can grow up without having to deal with the kind of scars the generation before them dealt with.

At Pebble Beach in 2000, Woods did more than run up the score. He became the biggest, baddest bully golf’s ever seen. He took something more valuable than lunch money. He robbed men of confidence and the respect of much of the golfing public.

“He’s the best in the game, by a long shot,” Ernie Els said after finishing a distant second at Pebble Beach. “It seems like we’re not even in the same ballpark.”

If those record victory margins in majors weren’t discouraging enough, Woods’ competition endured being buried beneath the mountain of praise that legends of the game were heaping on Woods.

“He’s supernatural,” Tom Watson said before Woods won the PGA Championship at Valhalla in the same summer as his Pebble Beach romp. “One day I’m going to tell my grandchildren that I played in the same tournament as Tiger Woods.”

After Jack Nicklaus questioned the failed challenges a generation was mounting against Woods, Lee Trevino defended Woods' competition. In doing so, though, Trevino managed to enlarge the giant shadow Woods cast over his peers.

“Tiger would have kicked the hell out of us, too,” Trevino said of his generation. “This guy is the most amazing athlete in any sport, ever. Jack might have put a dent in his fender here and there, but I wouldn’t have beaten him.”

Al Besselink, a six-time PGA Tour winner who played with Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, said his generation couldn’t have competed with Woods, either.

“Ben Hogan had to have the smartest brain in golf,” Besselink said. “Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, they're great, great players, and I'm not knocking any of them, but if you put them all in a horse race with Tiger Woods, Tiger would beat them by eight lengths.”

Three-time major championship winner Nick Price saw the impact all of this was having on young careers.

“I feel sorry for the young guys,” Price said. “Basically, I’ve had my day. The young guys are taking a pounding from this guy. I don’t know how to describe it.”

There is no player in his 20s today who holds a major championship trophy, but the opportunity’s there this week that wouldn’t have been there a decade ago.

McIlroy, Ishikawa, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwarztel and Alvara Quiros are among the youngest challengers hoping to break through.

Pre-scandal, the golfing public wouldn’t have given a young pro any chance against Woods at Pebble Beach.

At his best, Woods did everything but knock the hope out of youthful challengers.

Luke Donald dared to wear red in his final pairing with Woods in the last round of the PGA Championship at Medinah in 2006. It felt like a challenge with Woods claiming red as his power color on Sundays. Tied with Donald when Sunday opened, Woods birdied the first hole to take the lead and never looked back. He shot 68. Donald didn’t make a birdie all day and shot 74.

Back in Great Britain, somebody cruelly dubbed unfulfilled potential as “Luke Donald’s Disease.” Maybe it should have been called “Tiger Woods' disease.” Who knows what damage Woods really caused in the development of young potential.

Aaron Baddeley was putting together his best major championship effort at the U.S. Open at Oakmont three years ago when he was paired with Woods in the final twosome off in the final round. Baddeley triple-bogeyed the first hole and went on to shoot 80. Woods didn’t win, but he left his mark on Baddeley.

Who will ever forget Matt Gogel’s reaction when Tiger Woods came from seven shots back with seven holes to go to beat him at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2000? Gogel didn’t know what hit him. It wasn’t a major, but the loss didn’t just affect Gogel. It reverberated through golf.

Sergio Garcia was 19 when he mounted that bold challenge to Woods at the PGA Championship at Medinah in '99. Garcia hasn’t only failed to win a major. In the 41 majors he’s played as a pro with Woods in the field, he’s finished ahead of Woods just five times, four them at the British Open.

Anthony Kim, 24, who won’t play this week while recovering from a thumb injury, is developing well with three PGA Tour victories, but in the first 24 events he played with Woods in the field he never finished higher than Woods. He didn’t top Woods until he finished third at this year’s Masters, a spot ahead of Woods.

Before the scandal, when Woods’ name hit a leaderboard, it impacted every player on that board.

“He’s a freak of nature, worlds apart from the rest of us in every way,” Michael Campbell said back when Woods ran away at Pebble Beach.

When Woods tees it up this week, all those players with scars inflicted by Woods will be checking to see if the bully shows any signs of stirring.

All those players who got whipped by Woods at Pebble Beach a decade ago will probably tell you they're glad Woods is back playing, but they hope the bully’s gone forever.