In the not so distant past, Tiger Woods was a juggernaut. In 2008, playing on a ragged knee that needed surgical reconstruction, he won his third U.S. Open Championship. He sat on over $100 million in endorsement money. He had started family with his Swedish starlet wife.
And then came the fall.
Tiger left the sport he had dominated for a decade while his once pristine profile was battered and besmirched. He weathered a daily storm of lewd media accounts documenting his nationwide safari through call girls and strippers. Sponsors like Gatorade and AT&T turned their backs.
In the past two months of his return, Woods' play has been erratic. He withdrew from the Players Championship in May because of an injury a Golf Channel reporter mistakenly called a "bulging d-ck." The gaffe crystallized the new reality in Tiger's public perception: he was a man whose sexual adventuring had eclipsed his formidable athletic achievement.
The opening days of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the scene of early triumphs in Tiger's storied career, did not start well for the fallen pro. On Thursday, a spectator heckled him, shouting, "Its our business, Tiger, because you made it our business." Although other fans booed the heckler in Tiger's defense, it took Woods three putts to finish the hole. He admitted later to having heard the taunts.
The same day he drew the ire of the U.S. Golf Association ground's crew, whose honor he impugned by dismissing the greens as "just awful."
USGA executive director David Fay said, "As far as the greens are concerned, he's wrong."
On home turf in California, on one of the most challenging courses in the country, Tiger Woods is on the way to changing that. On the blustery Monterey Peninsula, Woods put together the best round of golf he has played since scandal scrambled his form.
Now, Tiger has leapt ahead of early leader Phil Mickelson and sits third on the board, a mere 5 strokes behind the current leader Dustin Johnson.
Tiger has never come from behind to win a major. During his stellar outing on Saturday he pumped his fist in the air in a performance reminiscent of his former greatness.
"It was just a great atmosphere," Woods said afterwards. "It felt good to put it together. Today I hit I shots the way I know I can hit shots."
Tarnished, heckled, and humbled, we'll find out today whether Tiger can win championships like he used to as well.