PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Tiger Woods was watching along with the rest of us. Kevin Durant had pulled up after another injury. It was a blow to the Warriors and certainly Durant. It also was a jolting reminder to Woods.
A different sport for Woods, a golfer, than for Durant, a basketball player. A common bond, a man who had known what it was to fall victim to something over which he had no control offering his thoughts on another.
In the first half of the Warriors-Raptors game on Monday night, Durant — just cleared to play after missing time with a calf injury — was hurt again. The diagnosis was a torn Achilles tendon, meaning Durant faced surgery and endless days of rehab.
“It was sad,” said Woods. “As athletes, we’ve all been there to that spot where you know something just went, and can’t move, can’t do much of anything. And you can see the look on his face. How solemn his face went. He knows it when things pop. You just know.”
As Woods just knew when his back went, leading to two surgeries, months of rehab, pain and doubt. Now healthy again, a major winner again, and back at Pebble Beach again, Woods will play in a U.S. Open again, starting Thursday at glorious Pebble.
Woods offered reflections on the course, reflections on a career, reflections on the struggles a competitor must endure, whether on the fairways or courts, or the gyms or healing facilities.
“Six to nine months of rehabbing,” said Woods. “That’s what people don’t see is all those long hours that really suck. And why do we do it? Because we’re competitors.
“As athletes, our job is to make the human body do something it was never meant to do, and do it efficiently and better than anybody who is doing it at the same time. Well, sometimes things go awry as we saw (Monday) night with Kevin.”
Tiger’s concern is understood. When his back was hurting, and when he couldn’t do much more than lie on the floor, Woods wondered if he ever could play golf again. Fortunately, he not only was able to play but to play it as successfully as he once did, in April winning the Masters for a fifth time.
Two months later, he returns to a course where he’s also done well, Pebble Beach, perched on the bluffs above Carmel Bay.
Woods won the AT&T tournament here, and then in 2000 — 19 years ago, wow — won the Open with a bravura performance, 12 under par. At age 43, he returns with great memories and a positive approach.
“I still remember most of the shots I hit that week,” he said Tuesday. “It was just one of those weeks where I don’t know how I pulled it off, but on seaside poa annua (grass), I never missed a putt inside 10 feet for a week. I did the same thing at Torrey, too.”
Torrey Pines, also on the Pacific, 400 miles south,, has greens of poa annua — annual poa grass — which has seed pods and bumps, and causes golfers grief.
But Tiger, and Phil Mickelson among many, grew up playing poa annua greens. The ball must be stuck firm, if not too firm, and the consequences — oops, a missed two-footer — have to be accepted.
“There’s nothing like playing a U.S. Open setup at Pebble,” said Woods.
The first time he played the course was not in an Open but more than 30 years ago with his late father, Earl.
“Hard to believe it was under a hundred bucks to play,” recalled Tiger. “My dad made a vow he would never play a round of golf where you had to play a hundred bucks or more. So luckily it was still under a hundred bucks then.” It’s more than $500 these days.
“I didn’t hit it very far,” said Woods. “I was 9 or 10. It was a long, soft, wet golf course to me. But it was cool to see the same thing we watch every year (at the AT&T/Crosby) where the pros play. That’s always a pretty neat thrill as an amateur.”
As a pro since 1996, winner of 15 majors, Woods has provided the thrills. And the perspective. He found out what an injury can do to a career. He feels for Kevin Durant.