Thursday, June 28, 2012

First Tee looking for new executive director

   The First Tee of Charlotte is looking for a new executive director with the announcement that Jennifer MacCurrach is leaving June 30 to return to Austin, Tex., where she will run the First Tee program there.
   MacCurrach came to Charlotte from Austin, where she will return.
   A search for a new executive is under way.
   In the meantime, Ian Bollinger will continue as director of instruction and Kaitlyn Jarman will continue as marketing and events manager for the program.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Big changes underway at Quail Hollow

  Quail Hollow Club is in the midst of another facelift.
   Several significant changes are underway that will alter the way the course plays next May when the Wells Fargo Championship returns. More changes are likely in the coming years in advance of the 2017 PGA Championship.
   Two holes -- Nos. 4 and 8 -- are undergoing major changes while the 11th, 12th and 13th holes are being tweaked.
   To accommodate a new short game practice area, the tee on the par-4 fourth hole is being shifted approximately 50 yards to the left and the hole will be lengthened to 508 yards from the championship tee. From the new tees, the hole will play straightaway, eliminating the gentle right to left movement of its former design.
   The move allows the club to expand its practice tees and create a new short-game area with three greens. The existing short-game area, located to the right of the practice range, will be converted into a tournament parking area.
   Among the features of the new short game area will be a sod-faced bunker, reminiscent of those on the famous links courses in Scotland and Ireland.
   The short par-4 eighth hole is also being revamped with a new green being built to the left of the existing green, which was among the most controversial on the course. The tees will be shifted slightly and the hole will play between 325 and 340 yards with an opening at the front of the green to allow long hitters to attempt to fit their tee shots between two bunkers.
   Bushes behind the 10th green and adjacent to the 13th tee have been removed and the tee on the 13th hole will be lowered and shifted to the right, changing the angle of approach to the heavily contoured green. Also, the back tee at the par-4 11th hole will be moved back in order to bring a fairway bunker back into play.
   The 12th green, which has been openly criticized by Phil Mickelson among others, is also being rebuilt to soften the severe contour.
   In addition, several cart paths behind the clubhouse and around the putting green are being removed. They will be replaced by a single path that will allow for better spectator movement.
  The project is expected to be completed by Aug. 15.
  Quail Hollow will convert to bermuda greens in advance of the 2017 PGA Championship and club president Johnny Harris said it's possible the transition could be made as early as next summer. The club is interviewing candidates for the superintendent position formerly held by Jeff Kent.
   "We knew we had to do some things," Harris said. "The changes will make it harder for the tournament players but not for our members. We don't have an Alister Mackenzie or Donald Ross heritage to worry about as far as making changes. If the board thinks it's the right thing to do, we're going to do it."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lang gives Duke program long overdue LPGA win

   One of the most inexplicable streaks in golf ended Sunday when Brittany Lang won the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Ontario.
  Lang became the first former Duke women's golfer to win on the LPGA tour.
  Talk about overdue.
  But golf, as anyone who's ever played knows, has its own way of doing things. Ask Jenny Chuasiriporn, the Duke golfer who lost the 1999 U.S. Women's Open to the legendary Se Ri Pak in a playoff. Chuasiriporn was a good player, not a great one, but for one charmed week she made herself a piece of history.
  It was Chuisiriporn's one shining professional moment but it was a great one.
  She was at the front end of what has become a golf dynasty, headed by Dan Brooks, who has the gift for spotting talent and cultivating it. Brooks and the Blue Devils have won five national championships, being similar in golf to what Mike Krzyzewski and his program have been to men's basketball.
   But LPGA victories had been an elusive target.
   From Amanda Blumenherst to Anna Grzebien, from Liz Janagelo to Virada Nirapathpongporn and from Beth Bauer to Candy Hanneman, Duke has produced outstanding players. The latest is Lindy Duncan, the reigning national player of the year.
   But for one reason or another, the LPGA victories hadn't come.
   Lang,a All-American at Duke in 2004 and 2005, has been close several times and is regarded as one of the tour's top players. But she needed a victory because that's what the best play for.
   When she got it Sunday, Lang got it for herself and for a program that didn't need LPGA Tour victories to validate its success but more than deserved it.
   "I can't believe it took me seven years to get a win out here," Lang said after her victory.
   Hard to believe it took the Blue Devils that long to break through. Perhaps, it's the first of many more.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Simpson to skip British Open as due date nears

  For Webb Simpson, the U.S. Open just keeps going.
  He got home early Monday morning, spent a day in Charlotte, let his father-in-law take the U.S. Open trophy to his office, did some interviews and, while spending time with his young son, James, tried to absorb what he had accomplished.
   The reaction has overwhelmed Simpson.
  "It's been great," Simpson told reporters at the Travelers Championship. "I've gotten so many texts or messages on Twitter. I got some emails from older guys who I've looked up to my whole life that I didn't expect. So that kind of just congratulatory reception from them has been great. And I've got a couple of emails from older golfers that I'm probably going to print out and frame and guys that I've respected so much in so many areas of life. They've just given me invaluable advice through these emails that I didn't expect.
  "Tom Watson wrote me a great email. Greg Norman left me a message on the phone and some other guys, Hale Irwin, who I've never even met before. Just guys that are legends of the game that have told me some things that I would have paid for."
   Simpson also talked with Arnold Palmer, whose name was on his Wake Forest golf scholarship. Palmer sent Simpson a note and they were together on Golf Channel's 'Morning Drive' show.
   Simpson is playing the Travelers Championship this week outside Hartford, Ct., honoring a commitment he made before he changed his golf life with his victory at The Olympic Club last Sunday. It's where Simpson played his second professional event in 2008 after writing a letter asking for a sponsor exemption in the field and he hasn't forgotten the tournament's willingness to give him a spot.
   With his wife, Dowd, due to give birth in late July to their second child, Simpson has decided he won't play the British Open next month.
   "I'm a guy who loves my family, and we're probably only going to have a couple more babies, so I have the rest of my life to play in the British Open. I don't want to miss the birth of the second child. So it's an easy decision," he said in his press conference.
  "After winning it's certainly a little harder not to go because I'd love to go and try to win another major, but in the grand scheme of things and grand scheme of life it's a decision that I know I'll always be happy that I made. Because the first experience watching my first son being born was one of the greatest experiences I think a person can have. And I don't want to miss it again."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Playing Olympic: One man's struggle

So you're wondering how hard The Olympic Club really was if Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open at 1-over par?

Well, let me tell you.

Tougher than the ice road truckers. It would scare the swamp people.

Because there wasn't a Monday playoff, I was among the media people whose name was pulled in a lottery, giving me the chance to tee it up at Olympic.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. And, to fully appreciate the challenge of playing a U.S. Open, our group decided to play Olympic just as it was played in Sunday's final round. That means the same tees, the same hole locations, the same trapdoors to step through.

I won't bore you with my scorecard. No one wants to hear someone else's hole by hole account of their round of golf unless they're getting paid caddie fee.

Let's start this way: Tiger played the famously difficult first six holes in 6-over par on Sunday. He beat me. By four.

But I did make a beautiful par at the tough, uphill par-4 second which seemed to be missing a fairway.

That was one highlight. We'll get to the other one momentarily.

A couple of things became clear while playing Olympic. It's the most visually intimidating driving course I've ever played. When the players talked about having to shape shots off the tee (sometimes hearing that can make my eyes glaze over), they meant it.

Imagine hitting a tee shot down a hotel hallway and having to turn it around a corner -- with ball-swallowing cypress trees on both sides. And if you miss the trees and the fairway, the rough is thicker than good clam chowder.

Trust me.

A playing parter missed the par-3 15th green by four inches -- four inches -- and we'd given up his ball for lost until someone almost stepped on it as he was preparing to drop another ball.

The greens were also smaller than they appeared. I've had dinner at tables bigger than the 18th green.

 Speaking of the 18th green, that was part of my other highlight. Nice 4-iron off the tee. Nice choke-down 8-iron up the hill and the same birdie putt Graeme McDowell had to force a playoff. His never had a chance. Mine hit the back of the hole and refused to fall in but it was an easy four.

One other thing worth noting: The burger dogs at the turn are as good as advertised. They're essentially cheeseburgers shaped to fit a hot dog bun but that's like calling the Mona Lisa a painting of a lady. The club doesn't own the halfway house. It's operated by an outside vendor who's been making the burger dogs for years, clogging arteries for decades.

They're fresh cooked when you order them and they're as good as hitting every fairway.

So what did I, who carries a 6.7 handicap index at Cedarwood Country Club, shoot?

It's not important.

The handicap computer will kick out that 96 anyway.

Photo: Lee Westwood uses binoculars to look for his ball in a tree on the fifth hole during the fourth round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Sunday, June 17, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The U.S. Open: Winners and losers

   Taking a last look at what happened -- and didn't happen -- at the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club:
   The Good
   -- Webb Simpson didn't lead the field in greens hit in regulation (58.3 percent), fairways in regulation (55.3) or birdies (13). But he made putts when he needed them and that wins U.S. Opens.
    Simpson's string of six straight one-putt greens midway through the final round proved to be the point of separation.
   -- Beau Hossler became a star. He didn't finish as low amateur -- Jordan Speith got that medal -- but Hossler became a crowd favorite with his play and his demeanor. He seemed unaffected by virtually everything. He's headed to Texas in another year. A guy named 'Hoss' playing for the Longhorns. Perfect.
  -- American golf seems just fine.
   It wasn't long ago this fall's Ryder Cup matches had practically been conceded to the Europeans. Six straight majors had been won by players from the other side of the Atlantic, Tiger was down, Phil was struggling and it was easy to hear European fans practicing their 'Ole, Ole' cheers for Medinah.
   Now the Americans have won three straight majors -- Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson -- while Matt Kuchar won The Players Championship. No wonder U.S. captain Davis Love III was smiling Sunday afternoon.
   -- Lee Westwood's attitude.
     He's tortured in majors like few others have been. His chances at Olympic died when his tee shot at the fifth hole lodged in a Monterey cypress, which eat golf balls the way kids eat candy. He looked like a bird watcher when he grabbed binoculars and tried to identify his ball in the tree.
   Still, he handled it beautifully. Climbing the huge staircase from the 18th green to the clubhouse Sunday after another disappointment, Westwood turned to his manager, Chubby Chandler, who was struggling up the steps behind him and said, "Pretend I'm wearing a short skirt."
   -- The Olympic Club: It was hard but players had no major complaints. There's already talk the U.S. Open may come back in another 10 years or so.
   The Bad
   -- Jim Furyk's finish. He missed the last five fairways in the final round, leading to a pair of bogeys that doomed his chances for a second Open.
   Pro golfers are creatures of habit and Furyk admitted he was flustered when he reached the par-5 16th hole and found the tee had been moved up 95 yards from where it had played earlier in the tournament. He wasn't prepared for that and said he couldn't get comfortable with the shot he wanted to hit. He wound up snap-hooking his tee shot into trouble, the beginning of his end.
   -- Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy: Numbers One and Two, respectively, flamed out on Thursday and couldn't save themselves on Friday.
   Donald seemed to try too hard and suddenly there are questions about McIlroy's focus. While both were huge disappointments, there's no reason for panic in either camp.
  -- Tiger's weekend: Perhaps the best that can be said is he scored better than Phil Mickelson on the weekend. When he needed it most, Woods couldn't hit fairways and couldn't make putts. He became just another guy trying to win and failing.
   -- The Bird Man: The clown wearing a Union Jack hat and crowing like a bird who disrupted the trophy presentation Sunday evening was last seen being escorted away on a golf cart wearing a bracelet of handcuffs.
   Credit to Webb Simpson for his quick reaction -- "Enjoy the jail cell, pal," -- and to USGA executive director Mike Davis who went middle linebacker on the guy.

Webb Simpson and the US Open trophy come home

   Webb Simpson, his wife Dowd and their new U.S. Open trophy took the red-eye home from San Francisco Sunday evening, jetting cross-country into a North Carolina morning new in so many ways.
   Simpson's gritty, impressive victory at The Olympic Club recast him as a professional golfer. There are good players. There are winners. And there are major champions.
   It was just the fifth major championship Simpson had played and while he believed he had the game to win a major, Simpson admitted he wasn't sure it would happen so soon.
   And here it is.
   Simpson joked that he had even more admiration for Tiger Woods, being able to win 14 times in golf's biggest tests. Simpson didn't want any more of the U.S. Open or Olympic.
   "I really didn't want a playoff," he said.
   It wasn't necessary when Graeme McDowell's last chance birdie putt missed on the 72nd hole.
   Simpson and Dowd watched the end on television in the locker room. When they weren't watching golf, they were watching videos on their phone of their son, James, who is just learning to walk.
   This was their first trip without their one-year old son and perhaps their last together until after Dowd gives birth to their second child, due Aug. 3.
    Two weeks ago, Simpson spent four days in Pinehurst, playing golf with his buddies, taking the nervous edge off his pre-Open preparations. He had missed consecutive cuts after his disappointment of not winning the Wells Fargo Championship at home, fixed a flaw in his swing and felt good flying west.
   Simpson felt even better flying home.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Can a 17-year old win the U.S. Open?

   Of all the potential story lines in the final round of the U.S. Open, none is more intriguing than the possibility -- with admittedly long odds -- of 17-year old amateur Beau Hossler going home with the trophy.
   "I still have the goal to be low amateur, but my goal now is to win the tournament," Hossler said Saturday afternoon with the bullet-proof mentality of a teenager.
   Why not?
   He starts the final round four strokes off the lead but with all the trapdoors scattered around The Olympic Club, it wouldn't take much for the leaders to move backward. If Hossler is the guy who moves forward, well, hello world.
   The U.S. Open is supposed to scare people. It hasn't scared Hossler. He looks like he's playing a friendly round with his mates from Rancho Santa Margherita High.
   You want emotion? He's not real big on that but his game says plenty.
   He's already booked to attend Texas but he has to finish high school first.
   It won't be a shock if shoots something close to 80 in the final round. It's a huge day and the golf course will be wicked.
   But maybe he'll shoot something under par. He thinks he can. That's the first step. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

McDowell: I don't fear success. I fear failure

   Rarely do you hear athletes talk about their fears.
   What's Tiger Woods afraid of? Who knows?
   But Graeme McDowell, who is 18 holes away from winning two U.S. Opens 90 miles and two years apart, made no secret Saturday night that he was wrestling with some demons before he teed off in the third round at The Olympic Club. McDowell was two off the lead before the round started and had the jitters, not unlike the feeling he had two years ago on Saturday at Pebble Beach.
   The difference this time is he's in the lead going into Sunday, not playing from behind as he did at Pebble Beach where Dustin Johnson soon chopped away his chances.
    "I've gone through these emotions all the time," McDowell said. "It's basic stuff. It's basically fear. Fear of going out there and messing it all up. The two fears we all have are fear of success and fear of failure. I don't fear success. I fear failure."
   McDowell said he expects to feel more relaxed Sunday than he did Saturday.
  "I'll just try to go out and do my job," he said. "If it's good enough, great. If it's not, perhaps I'll
drink a cold beer and get over it."
   Sounds like a plan.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The U.S. Open: What have we learned?

   What have we learned halfway through this U.S. Open?
   Here's the good:
  -- Tiger Woods is back. He may not win but he's ready to win another major -- finally. You can see it in the look and the confidence in his swing.
     Now all he has to do is finish it.
    -- Graeme McDowell is a great interview and a pretty good player. When McDowell's playing career is over, which may be a while, he has a future in television.
    Asked what he expects the winning score to be, McDowell said, "Levelish."
    He's probably right.
   -- The qualifying process gives the U.S. Open stories like 17-year old amateur Beau Hossler, 14-year old Andy Zhang and 40-year old Casey Martin. The Masters is great, by far my favorite event, but it doesn't have characters like the U.S. Open does.
   -- Plodders prevail.
     Check them out: McDowell. Jim Furyk. David Toms. Matt Kuchar. Jason Dufner. Hunter Mahan. All in the top 10.
   The bad:
    -- Luke Donald. Even he admits it.
    -- Rory McIlroy. He's going through a phase...I hope.
    -- Bubba Watson. Not built to win U.S. Opens.
    -- Traffic on the Bay Bridge. Okay, it has nothing to do with the Open but they've had a couple of really rough days getting back and forth to Oakland so I thought I'd at least mention it.

The Open: Love it tough but not impossible

   Why is it some people love to watch the pros make bogeys and double bogeys in the U.S. Open?
   They enjoy it, almost wallowing in the big numbers that accumulate on Open scorecards like another gnome in a hoarder's den.
   I don't get it.
   Well, I suppose I do get it. People like to see golf's one percent suffer once in a while.
   We all know how hard golf is. I don't need to watch Luke Donald shooting 79 to remind me again. This is the U.S. Open, one of the most important tournaments in the world, and I'm okay if guys make some birdies. I'm not advocating 16-under par like Rory McIlroy shot last year at Congressional but I'm okay if 5, 6 or 7-under wins the Open.
   I get the 'total examination' idea of the U.S. Open. The winner should prove he can drive in the fairway, hit greens, chip and, of course, putt. But I prefer to see the leaders move forward, not gradually fall away like the last leaves of autumn.
    Determining a champion should include a guy being able to make something happen, not to be the best at avoiding calamity.
    Mike Davis and Tom O'Toole, the two guys in charge of setting up U.S. Open courses, get that idea, too. It's their job to find the balance, leaning toward tougher is better, but not squeezing all the fun out of the championship.
   O'Toole says "it might not be particularly spectator oriented" but that's the nature of the challenge.
   "I think that if fans had to see this 52 weeks of the year, it probably wouldn't be good," Davis said. "But to see it once a year, at least the feedback we've that it's something that fans want to see a tough test one week of the year."
   The trick, Davis said, is making it difficult but keeping it exciting. The Olympic Club can allow both.
   The first six holes are wicked, the middle portion of the course is like a dull headache and the closing holes allow for birdies. The par-5 17th is reachable in two and the 18th is a short par-4, creating at least the possibilty for fireworks rather than a dumpster fire at the end.
   It's the U.S. Open. It's supposed to be hard, not impossible.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The best in the world? Are you sure?

   Of all the surprising things that happened in the first round of the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club including Ian Poulter's canary yellow shoes, nothing was as unexpected as the utter collapse of Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy.
   It was so complete that it made playing partner Lee Westwood's 73 practically glisten.
   I'll admit to being one of those who thought Donald was the man to beat this week. He was playing well, keeps the ball in play, has a brilliant short game and it seems time for him to win a major championship.
   What does Donald do? He goes out and shoots 79.
   Thanks, Luke.
   Nine pars. Nine bogeys.
   That won't win you any money in a nassau with your buddies. I know it's the U.S. Open but he's the No. 1 player in the world and he had 36 putts. Was he putting with a snow shovel?
    The good news is Donald tied 14-year old Andy Zhang.
    Then there was McIlroy, who posted a smooth 77.
    At least he made a birdie. One. Former Charlotte 49er Jeff Curl birdied three of his last eight holes.
    Westwood may have kept himself in the tournament, grinding out a 73 that started with a double bogey.
    The top three players in the world, Numeros Uno, Two and Three, were a combined 19-over par Thursday. Just for that, they should be forced to wear Poulter's yellow shoes on Friday.

Walking with Tiger, Phil and Bubba

   After walking the first nine holes with the Phil Mickelson-Tiger Woods-Bubba Watson pairing today, a few quick observations:
   -- There wasn't much conversation among the three because they rarely walked to the same places. Tiger kept walking down the middle of the fairway. Phil and Bubba kept going to the rough.
  -- Woods looked like the old Tiger, in control. The other two looked like they were driving a car with a stuck accelerator.
  -- The galleries were enormous, as you would expect, but because they were making bogeys rather than birdies, there weren't many explosive cheers. That's the U.S. Open for you.
  -- After Mickelson bounced a tee shot off a man in the gallery on the 14th hole, he tossed another ball to the guy as a souvenir. A man standing nearby said, "Next time, hit me."
   Another spectator said, "Go stand in the fairway, then." Mickelson just smirked.
  -- Olympic is very difficult. When Woods ripped a beautiful 3-wood tee shot on the par-5 17th hole then watched it roll across the fairway and into the rough -- something that happens a lot at Olympic -- he handed his club back to caddie Joe LaCava and just shrugged.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Former 49er Curl feeling good again

   Jeff Curl, the former Charlotte 49ers golf star, is playing in his first U.S. Open this week and it comes at the same place -- the Olympic Club -- that his father, former tour player, Rod Curl, played in his first Open 46 years ago.
  "That's pretty cool," Curl said during a practice round prior to his first major championship appearance.
   The course has changed significantly since his father played it but the elder Curl is in San Francisco, sharing the experience with his son.
   Jeff Curl finished at Charlotte in 2000 and finally feels his golf career coming together. A full-time member of the Nationwide Tour, Curl is coming off an eighth-place finish last week and he's healthy for the first time in years.
   He's had two shoulder surgeries, a torn ligament in his ankle and he cracked five bones in his back last November when he was "goofing around."
   After living in Charlotte for five years, Curl recently married and moved to Birmingham, Ala.
   "Marriage changed my life," he said. "I've settled down a little bit."
  This will be Curl's third PGA Tour start and he isn't intimidated. He's played with and against many of the players in the field and spent the weekend playing practice rounds with Ernie Els and Steve Marino among others.
   "I always tell people that when I'm healthy, I feel I'm as good as anyone," Curl said. "But the times I've been healthy have been few and far between. I really started feeling great about a month ago.
   "Obviously, this is the U.S. Open but my game is built on ball-striking. I won't surprise me if I shoot 82 or if I finish in the top 20. I feel good about my game."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rory: My bobblehead is better looking than me

 Defending U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy has the distinction of throwing out the first pitch prior to the San Francisco Giants' game Tuesday night against the Houston Astros. It's not something he practiced in advance.
  "I've been throwing a few golf balls on the course, threw a few medicine balls around ... at the gym.
  "I don't know whether to play it conservatively and just lob it into his hand or go for the fast one."
   McIlroy's appearance included fans receiving a bobblehead doll with McIlroy's likeness.
  "I think it's maybe better looking than me which is a good thing."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Charlotte CC to host City Am finale

  Catching up on things before heading to the U.S. Open at Olympic Club:
  -- The course rotation for the 53rd Charlotte City Amateur championship is set and registration for the prestigious event is nearing a close.

    The tournament, Aug. 17-19, will be played at Cedarwood Country Club, Carmel Country Club and Charlotte Country Club. The field will be cut after each round.
   Registration closes June 22. If you're interested in playing, visit
   -- Gastonia's Harold Varner III, whose college career just ended, will defend his title in the North Carolina Amateur championship beginning Thursday at Treyburn Country Club in Durham.
   Varner, who helped East Carolina to an NCAA tournament appearance as a senior, became the first African-American winner of the event. Top challengers are expected to be another ECU golfer, Adam Stephenson, 2011 runner-up Richard Fountain, Paul Simson and 2012 Carolinas Mid-Am champion Paul Simson.
  -- If you didn't visit the media tent at the RBC Heritage over the years, you probably didn't know Arnie Burdick, who oversaw the place for years. He was a retired newspaperman from upstate New York who settled on Hilton Head Island and became as much a part of the annual PGA Tour stop there as the famous tartan blazer awarded to the champion.
   Burdick passed away last week at age 92 after a brief illness. He was still at his post in April when the tournament rolled around again, serving mostly as a greeter and making sure everyone had what they needed. We lost a good one.
   -- If you want to be part of the 2014 men's and women's U.S. Opens at Pinehurst and you don't have the game to qualify, here's your chance: The tournaments are looking for approximately 7,000 volunteers to work over the two-week period.
   Volunteers don't have to work every day. There are four and five-day shifts available. If you're interested, visit

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Tiger, the way it used to be

What did you do Sunday afternoon when Tiger Woods holed it from San Quentin behind the 16th green at Muirfield Village for a birdie David Cooperfield couldn't explain?

Did you shout (I did)?

Did you high-five your dog?

Did you shake your head, call your wife and tell her watch this?

You did something because Tiger Woods, the one we saw again Sunday winning the Memorial, does things that make us react. He does things on the golf course that we remember.

In his prime, when he was painting the game like no one has before him, Woods astonished us. No one else has done that, at least not as consistently and spectacularly as Woods did for a decade or more. He gave us remember where you were moments.

The 215-yard 7-iron up the hill at No. 6 at Pebble Beach in the 2000 U.S. Open. The 6-iron from a fairway bunker over the water at the Canadian Open. The chip shot at No. 16 at Augusta National the last time he won the Masters.

Most great players have one of those moments. Tiger has them in an eight-piece place setting.

For the last two-plus years, all the talk has justifiably been about whether we'd get the Tiger Woods we knew back or if time and turmoil had taken him away forever. His win at Arnold Palmer's tournament in March validated his contention he could still win and, after a dreary stretch that included a second straight missed cut at the Wells Fargo Championship, Woods showed us Sunday what we once took for granted.

With Jack Nicklaus watching, he tied the Golden Bear for second on the all-time list with 73 PGA Tour victories. It was a nice bit of symmetry and it rekindled the thought that Tiger may still chase down Jack's record of 18 major championship victories.

He still needs four to tie, five to go where no one ever has. It's a huge ask, a Hall of Fame career still be built to get it done but Sunday reminded us why we used to think Tiger would make it happen. I'm guilty of saying and writing he would win 20 or more majors. If you didn't say it, you thought it because of how dominant he was.

It's different now but suddenly the U.S. Open at Olympic Club in two weeks has a familiar feel. A week ago, it was about Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald and now it's about Tiger going for No. 15.

It's nice to know the thrill isn't gone.