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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Steve Henson

U.S. Open golfers still telling ‘Tiger Tales’ despite Woods’ absence

LOS ANGELES — Tiger Woods’ plan was sparse yet clear. He said at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in February that he’d play in the four majors this year. Nothing more was guaranteed.

Turns out, the majors weren’t a guarantee, either ... much to the chagrin of his fellow golfers.

“A lot of us here today in the field owe a lot to Tiger, he’s why we got involved in the game,” Collin Morikawa said. “Maybe not the sole reason, but for me growing up that’s all I cared about.”

Woods, 47, declined to play in the U.S. Open this week at the L.A. Country Club because of ongoing issues with his surgically repaired ankle, a lingering consequence of his car crash in early 2021.

He withdrew from the Masters on the third day in April and did not play in the PGA Championship last month. Woods, the only golfer with Southern California roots to win the U.S. Open, is missed.

Raised in La Cañada-Flintridge and learning to play at Chevy Chase Country Club in Glendale, Morikawa said he followed only one professional golfer.

“It’s been amazing to get to know guys like Rory [McIlroy] and Jordan [Spieth] and JT [Justin Thomas], but I didn’t care about them when I was growing up, I really didn’t,” he said. “People ask me about the history of Rory winning this or Rory — certain guys winning this. I didn’t really care. I only cared about Tiger.”

Morikawa spoke for many when he wished Woods as full a recovery as he is capable.

“I think for him, it’s just to be healthy at this point,” he said. “Who knows when we’re going to see him or not. I don’t think any of us take that for granted anymore.”

Walking over Wilshire

No word from Guinness World Records, but apparently the hastily built bridge above Wilshire Boulevard. connecting the LACC South Course to the North Course is groundbreaking even if it didn’t technically break ground.

“It’s the largest bridge in USGA history,” USGA chief executive Mike Whan said.

Whan joked that every step across the bridge cost $10,000 but said it was well worth it to get droves of spectators across the heavy traffic on Wilshire from parking lots on the South Course to the U.S. Open action on the North Course. More than 22,000 tickets were sold.

The bridge was built during the middle of the night over Memorial Day weekend and will come down shortly after the U.S. Open ends Sunday. It was the brainchild of USGA managing director Reg Jones.

“It’s pretty amazing. The first time I came out here and I said to Reg, ‘How are we going to get 22,000 people over here?’ And he said, ‘We’re going to build a bridge over Wilshire Boulevard.’ I said, ‘You’re going to what?’ ”

Jay Monahan’s leave of absence

That Jay Monahan took leave of absence to recuperate from a medical condition wasn’t much of a surprise. The PGA commissioner had endured a week of withering criticism for agreeing to merge business operations with Saudi-backed LIV golf.

No update on his condition was available Wednesday, just an outpouring of sympathy.

“I want to say to my friend and colleague, Jay — I hope you’re watching this, Jay — I hope you’re feeling better and just know that everybody at the USGA and everybody in the game of golf wishes you a speedy recovery,” Whan said.

PGA executives Ron Rice and Tyler Dennis will lead the day-to-day operations during Monahan’s absence.

Miller time 50 years ago

Johnny Miller was honored with the Bob Jones Award, given by the USGA in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. Miller, 76, said he used Bobby Jones irons during the last tournament he won, in 1994, and he wandered further down memory lane and reminisced about the record 63 he shot to win the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1973.

He began the round six shots back and trailing 11 players, including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino.

“It wasn’t like it was a bunch of guys you didn’t know who they were,” Miller said. “It was just all the who’s who in golf. ... I birdied the first four holes and I knew I was in the running. The hair on the back of my neck sort of stood up when I said that to myself: ‘You’ve got a chance to win.’ ”

No one has shot a lower round at a U.S. Open.

“There will be guys that will shoot lower scores, but can they do it on Sunday to win the U.S. Open and pass up the kind of guys that I passed up?” he said. “That’s what makes the story or the round honorable. Makes it cool.”

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