A decade has passed since Tiger Woods legendarily outlasted Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole playoff at Torrey Pines to capture the 2008 U.S. Open title despite playing on a damaged left knee that would require reconstructive surgery.
It marked Woods’ 14th major championship by the age of 32, and, even with those knee issues, who could have imagined he’d remain to this day four victories from matching Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18.
Tiger’s ensuing tale has been littered with unfathomable twists and turns, both professional and personal, as he and the rest of the PGA’s best head to eastern Long Island for the fifth U.S. Open to be held at the ever-demanding Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.
Debilitating and career-threatening back injuries required four surgeries, most notably a spinal fusion in April 2017, over a 29-month span. He made it on the course for just one tournament last year.
The superstar also was found to have painkillers, Xanax, Ambien and an ingredient active in marijuana in his body when he was busted in Florida in May of 2017 for driving under the influence.
Since returning to the PGA Tour in January, Woods has posted two top-five finishes in nine starts, although he did have a disappointing showing at the Masters, finishing tied for 32nd.
Tiger surged into a tie for the lead on the back nine last Saturday at the Memorial, a tournament he has won five times. But a couple of late bogeys in Round 3 dropped him off the pace before his putter betrayed him on Sunday. He finished in a tie for 23rd, six strokes behind winner Bryson DeChambeau.
“Well, it’s incredible to be able to play golf again at this level,” Woods said following the Memorial. “Not to have any worries about being able to walk again, like I was. I was struggling there for a while and now I’m on the other end of the spectrum. I don’t have the pain, which is incredible, and I’m able to do this again, something I love and something that I’ve been doing for a very long time.
“Golf’s been a part of my life ever since I can remember, and I didn’t know if I could ever be a part of the game again. As I said, there was a point in time where I couldn’t walk and this is part of the game. And so I’m able to do this now at this level and go hit the shots I’m hitting and compete and I’ve had a chance to win a few times so far this year.”
Woods, 42, has zoomed from being ranked outside the top 1,000 in the world last summer to No. 80, but his recent play and reputation have earned him the fourth-best betting odds — 14-1 according to VegasInsider.com — for the U.S. Open.
That leaves Tiger behind Dustin Johnson (9-1), Rory McIlroy (10-1) and Jordan Spieth (12-1) and ahead of No.1-ranked Justin Thomas (15-1).
“Overall, my game is where it needs to be heading into the U.S. Open and that’s something that’s very positive,” said Woods, who will be part of a marquee pairing in the first two rounds with the top two players in the world, Thomas and Johnson. “I just need to hit better putts.
“[At the Memorial] I didn’t really have, didn’t feel comfortable with my lines and my feel was a little bit off. Consequently, I missed a bunch of putts. But I hit it really good this week, so that’s a positive going into Shinnecock, where ball striking is going to be a must. … It will be a very different golf course, but overall if I hit the ball like this, I’ll be pleased in two weeks. … I haven’t hit it like this for a while.”
Nor has he come close to adding to his major championships in quite some time. His best finish since his 2008 title came the following year, when Woods finished second to Y.E. Yang in the PGA Championship.
“It’s hard to believe,” Phil Mickelson told Golf Week magazine earlier this month about Woods. “Not only is he going to win again, but I think he’ll win more majors. I don’t think  was his last major.”
Mickelson is still seeking his first U.S. Open championship after a record six second-place finishes. He played Shinnecock a few times late last month and called the course “the greatest setup going that I have seen in my 25-whatever years of playing the U.S. Open.”
Still, most eyes will be on Woods. He finished tied for 17th at Shinnecock in 2004 and will be appearing in his first U.S. Open since failing to make the cut at Chambers Bay in 2015.
Woods also won the U.S. Open in 2000 at Pebble Beach, and in 2002 at Long Island’s Bethpage Black course.
“I’ve had my chances,” Woods said of his recent play. “And for some reason I just either have not hit the ball well enough or haven’t putted well enough, or haven’t put the two together. There was always some missing piece.”
He sees potential to complete the puzzle this week.
“Shinnecock, the way it’s set up with the rough and the fescue and the 7,500 [yards], par 70 ... I mean it’s a big, big ballpark,” Woods said. “Overall, if I just keep building on this, with how I’m hitting it right now, I’m in good shape.”