Tiger gets nothing from the Pebble Beach greens

Tiger Woods didn’t miss a putt inside of eight feet and didn’t three-putt once when he rewrote the record books at United States Open in 2000.

He also, as caddie Steve Williams told me, didn’t make any mistakes.

That was then, and now life on the Pebble Beach greens is as bumpy and unpredictable for Woods as, well, life.

“The greens are just awful,” he bemoaned after a disappointing 3-over-par round of 74 left him five strokes off the first-round lead.

I asked him whether they were really so much worse than they were a decade ago.

“Yes,” he said. “Much firmer.”

But it seemed just as true, too, that he didn’t putt on Thursday like that celestial 24-year-old.

It’s hard to see that kid looking so bemused as putts broke to the ocean. Hard to see him three-putting twice, much less fluffing a chip which led to a careless bogey on the last hole.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that young Tiger taking iron off the par-5 18th only to lay up in the bunker, virtually eliminating birdie given the front right pin.

It’s been seven years since Woods has played a round of golf at a major and failed to make a single birdie. He’d only done it twice before Thursday, and both times the weather was tumultuous.

But it was a gorgeous day by the Pacific on Thursday.

The irony of Thursday’s round is that where Woods has been wildly inconsistent in his ball-striking since his return to golf, he hit the ball well enough to have been near the lead.

“I felt like I played very consistent, very patient, and I hit a lot of shots how I wanted to hit them and placed the ball in the correct spots,” he said. “[But] you can’t leave yourself a second putt out here; they’re just not very good. It’s going to be bouncing all over the place.

“You would rather have a 30-foot below the hole rather than 10-foot above the hole. You can’t control it. You can’t control the putts.”

Woods set the tone on the first hole. He played a short iron approach which landed beyond the pin and spun back, barely missing the hole for an improbable eagle.

But then his 12-footer for birdie didn’t come as close as his iron shot.

Turns out that putts break toward the ocean on that green.

Woods hit the first 11 greens in regulation but finished that stretch with 23 putts.

He got no inspiration from watching his playing partners, Ernie Els and Lee Westwood, on the greens, either.

Els was totally clueless. He missed a birdie putt from three feet on the 13th. The South African immediately went to the practice green after his round and had his caddie, Ricci Roberts, videotaping his putting stroke with an iPhone to try to sort out his problems.

Westwood’s woes extended to a larger radius around the greens. His chipping was so bad he took to putting from off the green whenever he could.

Yet Els still finished with 73 and Westwood, for all his misfortunes, matched Woods with a 74.

If all of that wasn’t bad enough, a heckler reminded Woods that not everything has been forgotten or forgiven by everyone.

“It is our business, Tiger,” he yelled. “You made it our business.”

Woods later was asked about the remark.

“I heard it,” he said, adding no more.

If there is reason to hope for Woods it comes in the fact that the U.S. Open is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s the supreme test of patience as much as skill.

He knows not to panic.

“I’ve won three of these,” he said.

“Just be patient, there’s a long way to go, just keep plugging along and see where I come Sunday afternoon.”

Woods had a fellow traveler in Phil Mickelson, who went off in the morning and turned in a 4-over-par 75.

“Obviously I didn’t score well, but I thought I played pretty well, other than putting,” Mickelson said. “I just putted horrific. It’s very frustrating for me to miss all those opportunities. I don’t mind making a bad swing here, there, making a bogey here, there; it’s part of the U.S. Open.

“I’ve got to make birdies. And when I missed those five-footers and that three-footer and a couple of 10-footers, it just was very frustrating for me. I usually find a way to make some birdies, but this was tough.”

It was the first time that both Mickelson and Woods didn’t make a birdie in the same round at a major.

But Mickelson’s a natural-born optimist, and sees himself still in the running for that elusive U.S. Open breakthrough after five runner-up finishes.

“We have three rounds left. I know if I shoot under par (Friday) I’ll be right there. There’s no way under par is going to win here, I don’t believe. I think over par will win. Because of that I’m right there.”