SHINNECOCK HILLS, N.Y. (CNN) – It has been 10 long years since he hobbled and fist-pumped his way to the U.S. Open title on what was later diagnosed as a broken leg. Tiger Woods has not won a major since that eye-popping performance at Torrey Pines in 2008.
But the former world No. 1 is back and hungry for success at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island this week.
Debate has raged over what would be the greater achievement — a 15th major for Woods after his life skirmishes and four back surgeries, or old rival Phil Mickelson finally landing a U.S. Open after six runner-up spots to secure the career grand slam.
The jury is out.
“You’re comparing Cadillacs,” said world No. 2 Justin Thomas.
Woods’ mind is certainly willing, and his 42-year-old body has held up during a promising return to the game this season. Playing in his first U.S. Open since 2015, the buzz is back. “He definitely moves the needle,” said Australia’s former world No. 1 Jason Day. “Everyone want to see what he looks like, how big he is, the myth behind Tiger Woods.”
Day has become close friends with the American, and he ribbed his friend in text messages about his outfit the last time that the U.S. Open was held at Shinnecock Hills in 2004. “I sent him a picture. He had MC Hammer pants on,” added Day, who is holing up in his RV near the course to avoid the notorious Long Island traffic.
Woods, who is staying on his $20 million yacht in Sag Harbor, didn’t bite. But, according to Day, his usual banter suggests that his competitive mojo is back after some dark times during his various injury layoffs.
Mickelson should also be in the twilight of his career — he turns 48 years old on Saturday — but he will be roared on by an adoring New York crowd who willed him to second behind South African Retief Goosen on a tumultuous and controversial final day in 2004.
A first win for five years earlier this season suggests that the mercurial left-hander still has the firepower to compete at the top level. And, these days, it’s all directed at the U.S. Open as he bids to become only the fifth player to win each of golf’s four majors after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods.
“It would mean an awful lot,” said Mickelson, playing in his 27th U.S. Open after missing last year’s event for his daughter’s graduation. “I feel like, if you win all four, you’re a complete player. The five guys who have done it are the five best to have ever played the game. I want to be the sixth.”
But, while the two 40-somethings make for a neat narrative, the story may have moved on. The favorite for the 118th U.S. Open is the big-hitting Dustin Johnson, reinstated as world No. 1 after sealing Sunday’s St. Jude Classic with a walk-off eagle.
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