A couple of tournaments have passed since Tiger Woods would traditionally have made his first start of the season, but this week again underscores how much his absence is felt. Rather painfully, too.
Ten years ago, basically to the week, at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, is where the Tiger legend was truly cemented.
Pebble was like the Cape Canaveral of the West Coast, and liftoff was achieved when he erased a seven-stoke deficit with seven holes to play to win the tournament, the beginning of a season that truly put him in a different orbit altogether.
Four months later, he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by a record-obliterating 15 strokes. Then he won the British Open by a commanding eight shots. And the PGA Championship two months later in a stirring playoff.
Sure, Woods had won eight times in 1999 and was clearly off and running at age 23, but his nine-victory season in 2000, with the three majors included, was indisputably his career-defining campaign. The following April, he won the 2001 Masters to complete the first wraparound Grand Slam in history.
Last fall, there was plenty of speculation among fans and media as to whether Woods would return to the Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week, a tournament he had scratched off his annual visitation list years earlier. But since Pebble Beach is again hosting the U.S. Open this summer, plenty of other pros have jumped into the field this week to get an advanced look-see.
Besides, everybody reasoned, the Pebble Pro-Am is sponsored by AT&T, one of his biggest sponsors. It made perfect sense. Some of us booked hotel rooms months in advance.
We all know what has happened since. His reputation and persona unraveled like the rubber band interior of an old wound ball, spinning wildly out of control to reveal a lumpy, misshaped core. OK, I digress.
If Woods’ personal life hadn’t drowned in a sea of tabloid ink, this week’s return of the PGA Tour to Pebble Beach likely would have been celebrated in stories and remembrances, especially if Woods had played: Ten Years After and all.
Woods won 56 U.S. tour events from 2000-09, plus 12 of his 14 major championships. In at least symbolic fashion, it felt like the momentum began with the unbelievable seven-stroke comeback at Pebble. After that, anything seemed possible for the skinny kid from SoCal.
With Woods currently MIA and his return uncertain, the eye-popping anniversary has passed largely without notice, another victim -- albeit a less-damaging and obvious one than flagging TV ratings or poor attendance in early 2010 -- of the biggest scandal in golf history.
The collateral damage continues. More the pity for fans, the tour and the game.