After a day and a half of watching all those pretty Pacific views, the U.S. Open caught its first big, eye-popping wave when Phil Mickelson surfed Pebble Beach’s front side in 31.
The birdie at No. 8 was one of those giant U.S. Open moments, viewed wide with the packed grandstands rising above the cliffs and erupting in full-throated cheer – it set your heart racing.
Following another birdie at 11, and as Lefty penciled in another three on his card, his clenched jaw served as a marked contrast to the sheepish modesty he so often puts on display.
Phil wants this. Phil needs this.
Not that Ernie Els doesn’t. It’s been eight years and a thousand questions since his last major. And while it may have taken a turbulent decade to get there, Ernie’s finally caught Tiger, if only for a brief period. Mind you, catching Tiger 10 years ago hardly seemed possible in the wake of his 15-shot obliteration. If Tiger was at Pebble, his peers may as well have been in Australia, left with a paddle boat to cross the ocean to reach him.
Ryo Ishikawa was just 8 years old at the time, beginning to dream a boy’s dream that he’d be like Tiger, old enough now at 18 to know it’s the titles he covets, not the trouble.
Should Ryo do the improbable and win the U.S. Open, what we once knew as Tigermania would look like a middle school pep rally compared to what Ishikawa will experience in Japan.
As for Tiger, a year ago, and seven back with two rounds to go, he’d be lurking. It doesn’t feel that way now.
Once superior, he looks no better than any number of hopefuls, and not as good as the two men he tormented for so long, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.