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Inside the ropes

They're not expecting Woods to go quietly

June 11, 2008|Mike James | Times Staff Writer

LA JOLLA -- Tiger Woods said he'll be ready to go Thursday when he begins his quest to win the U.S. Open for the first time since 2002. But he also acknowledged Tuesday that his knee, surgically repaired two days after the Masters, has limited him to nine-hole practice rounds at the stretched-out Torrey Pines South Course.

"It's a little sore," he said, "but not anything I haven't dealt with before."

Woods hasn't played competitively in two months. So the layoff and the knee might give the rest of the field encouragement that there's a crack in the world No. 1 golfer's game this week, right? Well, no.

Does the knee make Woods less of a favorite? Sergio Garcia was terse:

"No, not at all."

Is there any buzz among players that Woods won't be at his best when he says he's not 100%?

Masters champion Trevor Immelman: "Yeah, I don't believe him. He'll be fine, don't worry."

From Jim Furyk: "Last time he had surgery on his knee and took a whole bunch of time off, I remember him coming to San Diego and whipping the field. So I wouldn't be surprised if it happened again."

Could Phil Mickelson, playing with Woods in the first two rounds, have a psychological advantage because of the layoff?

"I just don't see how it's going to have a negative effect on him," Mickelson said. "And I just can't see a player make adjustments easier than Tiger."

And from Woods himself, smiling:

"I'll be fine."

Precisely the words the other 155 players in the field could do without.

And the winning score is ...

No one is expecting a winning score on a course that can be lengthened to 7,643 yards to be anywhere near Woods' 19 under par at the Buick Invitational in January. Most estimates range between even par and four under.

Rees Jones, who redesigned Torrey Pines to bring it to Open standards: "I think two or three under par could win it."

Roger Maltbie, former tour player and NBC commentator of the Open since 1995: "Maybe two to four under."

Immelman: "Even par is going to be a really good score. There are no breather holes out there."

Mickelson, who has predicted even par as a potential winning score: "There's no way to go low here. And the reason is the greens are not soft. They're firm. . . . Coming in with mid-irons or long irons there's no way to get the ball close."

Woods: "We've been trying to figure that out the last few days. If they play [the tees] all the way up, I'm sure it will be under par. . . . If they play it all the way back and move some of the pins around . . . well, then it makes it a whole lot harder."

Perfect pairing

The USGA's decision to put the top three players in the world -- Woods, Mickelson and Adam Scott -- in the same group for the first two rounds is just fine with the top two draws in the game.

Woods, who has won six times as a pro at Torrey in addition to a Junior World Championship as a teenager, said, "I haven't heard one negative thing about it.

"I think it's exciting for the fans, exciting for the players. . . . You don't get pairings like that until maybe Saturday or Sunday."

Said Mickelson: "I think it's awesome. I wish we had it more. . . . I like the fact that we're at least on the same wave and to be paired together is even better."

Immelman, asked whether he thought 75% of the expected 42,500 fans would be following that threesome, said, "Yeah, well, I think 100% of the fans will be following them, not 75%."

In 2003, when Immelman missed the cut at the Open at Olympia Fields outside Chicago, he followed Woods as a spectator on Saturday.

Said Immelman: "I would pay to watch Tiger play golf."

Furyk had a very different view: "And not a chance in the world would I ever go out there and fight that gallery, not even for two holes. It just wouldn't be worth it."

Chip shots

Spectator parking is at Qualcomm Stadium, with free shuttles to the tournament. There is no public parking at the golf course. . . . Stogie lovers: Leave your cigars in the humidor in your den. Torrey Pines is a smoke-free facility, inside and out. . . . Craig Barlow, John Mallinger, John Merrick and Peter Tomasulo reached the field through sectional qualifying. All are members of Virginia Country Club in Long Beach.

--

mike.james@latimes.com

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