San Diego No one wants to say it. Tiger Woods doesn't want to say it. Phil Mickelson doesn't want to say it. But I will.
Tiger has no chance of winning the U.S. Open this week at Torrey Pines Golf Course. And the reason is a lot simpler than breaking down variants such as quirky rough, emotional states and rehabilitation techniques since surgery on his left knee two months ago.
The reason is that Tiger is human. Yes, I know, that last statement was quite a shock to many of you. But trust me, I'm 99.9% sure that he is.
That means Woods, for all his competitive fire and for all his success on this course, simply cannot return from a two-month competitive layoff and win the world's most demanding, brutal and punishing tournament.
In fact, if it weren't for the kinder, gentler U.S. Golf Association making strong hints about softening the course, I might go as far as to say that Tiger would probably miss the cut. And that's also a very real possibility.
If this were a trial, I would offer two exhibits as my evidence.
Exhibit A: Tiger played his first 18 holes of golf since the Masters last Wednesday.
Exhibit B: He still has not walked 18 holes. Let me reiterate that. He still has not walked 18 holes. This would be like a swimmer saying he hadn't actually been in a pool but had a couple of nice hot tubs two days before the Olympics.
Justin Hicks, a Michigan alumnus, qualified to play this week. I spoke with him recently about playing with the world's greatest golfers and Hicks, while he wasn't speaking specifically about Woods, said fans tend to build up athletes too much.
"A lot of people want to kind of dress these people up like they're superheroes and give them a cape and have them fly in from outer space or something," Hicks said. "When it gets down to it, we're all just golfers and the ball doesn't know who's hitting it."
During his nine-hole practice round Tuesday, Woods seemed to walk a little gingerly instead of taking his normally long, confident strides. Of course he says there's no problem.
"Well, I feel very good about coming in and playing," Woods said Tuesday. "I feel good about my practices, my preparation, coming back to a golf course I've had some success at, just really looking forward to getting out there and playing. It's just a matter of getting into the competitive rhythm and flow of the round quicker."
Tiger went on to explain what he meant about "rhythm and flow."
"It's how far the ball is flying," he said, "how your body is feeling, shape of shots, what you feel you can and can't hit, what you feel comfortable shaping, your distance control, sometimes it's off a few yards, all these different things you should know that going in very quickly."
The problem is that Woods doesn't know. He hasn't been under the gun in two months. If this were the Masters or a PGA Tour venue that he plays regularly and whose setup doesn't change much, it might be different.
That was the case in 2003, when Woods also was returning from a two-month layoff from knee surgery and still won the Buick Invitational at Torrey by three shots.
"It's totally different than what we play here in January," he said.
Unfortunately for Tiger, this week's result will be totally different, too.