In short, 08 was the best abridged season since Ben Hogan won five of six events he played in 1953, including the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. But then Woods four-of-six haul can be misleading, a disjointed calendar of brilliance mixed amid emotional challenges and physical pain.
Essentially, 2008 was a tale of two Torreys for Woods. One filled with promise and prompting hushed comparisons to his 2000 masterpiece, the other a 91-hole limping exhibition. Both played out on the same sprawling seaside public park, providing perfect synergy to the imperfect season.
In February Woods dismantled the softer, kinder version to win his sixth Buick Invitational and send a chill as palpable as any June Gloom down the backs of the collective challengers who would return to SoCal for the U.S. Open.
Woods lapped the Buick field by eight, led the pack in putting and was tied for second in greens in regulation. I knew I could attain another level, and here we are, was Woods frighteningly clinical assessment.
He followed Torrey Pines Part 1 with a commanding performance at the WGC-Match Play Championship and a walk-off birdie at the 72nd hole to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the fifth time in his last nine starts.
I think we need to slice him open and see whats inside there, said Stewart Cink, Woods 8-and-7 final-match speed bump in Tucson. Maybe nuts and bolts.
The world soon discovered the machine needed maintenance. Two days after Woods finished three shots behind Trevor Immelman at Augusta National - the byproduct of a balky putter more so than a misfiring swing - he walked into a Park City, Utah, medical facility to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair cartilage damage. It was the second operation in five years on the same knee and would bench the world No. 1 for at least two months.
Although he missed The Players and Wachovia Championship, where he was the defending champion, his return to Torrey Pines combined with the buzz of a contrived uber-pairing that would feature Woods, San Diego native Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott in Rounds 1 and 2 to create a pre-championship frenzy. The affair had a Fab Four feel to it as the Southern California masses encircled the first tee to get a glimpse at history.
For the better part of two days, it failed to live up to its billing.
Mickelson ballooned to a 75 in Round 2 to drop out of the hunt. Scott nursed his way to matching 73s. And Woods knee, if not his air of invincibility, suddenly seemed frail.
He played his first 27 holes in 3 over par, missed more fairways (12) than he hit (nine) and had already recorded twice as many three-putts (two) as he did during his last Grand Slam tilt (2007 PGA), when he stepped to the South Courses first tee (his 10th of the day).
After penciling in a double bogey-6 at the par-4 opener on Day 1, Woods began an almost flawless nine holes with a birdie. He one-putted five of his final nine holes and signed for a 68 to head into the weekend one back.
Wincing with almost every swing and walking tenderly from tee box to green, Woods continued the exhibition on Saturday, rolling in a pair of eagles at the 13th and 18th holes to assemble the type of 54-hole lead he rarely gives away.
This time, however, Woods failed to deliver from the front of the pack. He doubled No. 1, bogeyed the second and needed a twisting 18-footer for birdie at the last to match Rocco Mediate at 1 under and push the bout to extra innings and one of the most memorable Mondays in recent history.
Oh my God, that was ridiculous, said Mediate, the 45-year-old endearing antagonist who pushed Woods to the 91st hole. He's hard to beat. I threw everything I had, the kitchen sink, everything right at him.
There would be more histrionics: Woods two-putt from 40 feet for birdie at the 18th extra frame to extend the Monday that wouldnt end, and ultimately a moment of rare anticlimax when Woods won the 108th U.S. Open with tap-in par at the final hole.
I think this is probably the best ever, Woods said of his 14th major keepsake. All things considered, (I) don't know how I ended up in this position, to be honest with you.
It was a long week, a lot of doubt, a lot of questions going into the week. And here we are 91 holes later.
Six months and one major surgery later, the episode still maintains an instant classic quality. Whether it was enough to ease Woods transition from fearless champion to compliant patient is up to the man on the couch. The historians will take care of the rest.