Three’s company: The pairing of Tiger and Phil (and Adam Scott) added excitement to the 2008 U.S. Open
June 15, 2021
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
- Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott on the first tee at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO – The 2008 U.S. Open will always be remembered for the way Tiger Woods finished his 14th career major triumph. There was the 12-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole and the 19-hole playoff against the affable underdog, Rocco Mediate.
The start of the tournament was noteworthy, as well, thanks to the USGA’s groundbreaking pairing of the world’s top three players. That put Woods and Phil Mickelson, who shared Southern California roots and a full-blown rivalry, in the same group as golf’s heartthrob, Australia’s Adam Scott.
Woods was a dominant force at Torrey Pines, having won the PGA TOUR’s Farmers Insurance Open six times between 1999 and 2008, including the last four in a row. Mickelson, ranked second in the world, had three wins of his own at Torrey Pines. His win in the 2000 Farmers snapped Woods’ six-tournament winning streak.
Every man, woman, child and dog seemingly wanted to be there to watch Mickelson, the hometown favorite, and Woods, who grew up an hour away in Cypress. And the participants themselves seemed to relish the pairing, as well.
“I like it. I think it's exciting for the fans, exciting for the players. We all are looking forward to it. I haven't heard one negative thing about it yet,” Woods said in his pre-tournament presser. “Everyone I've talked to just being at home and practicing is really looking forward to seeing all those guys grouped together because we're usually spread out. You don't get pairings like that until maybe Saturday or Sunday.”
Mickelson also was on board publicly.
“I think that it's awesome. I wish that we had it more… because usually one end of the tee times has an advantage over the other,” he said at the time. “I've certainly been on the good end a number of times and I'm not complaining, but there are times when you're not on the good end, and for us to be on the same end I think makes it a fair championship.”
Scott was simultaneously the world’s third-ranked player and the group’s third wheel. He joked about being the only guy to play a U.S. Open in front of 25,000 fans who wouldn’t remember any of his shots. He was the answer to a trivia question: “When Tiger and Phil were paired at Torrey Pines, who was the other guy?” In reality, he still counts it as a career highlight.A large gallery watches Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott during the first round of the 2008 U.S. Open. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
“It was a great atmosphere. It is really one of the strong memories of my career away from winning tournaments. Being on that first tee in that environment was amazing,” Scott recalls.
“On Thursday morning I remember looking down the hole thinking there must have been at least 20,000 people there and it was wild. Also it was the first time in a while the U.S. Open had been at a public venue and that made it a big deal also. The people here clearly appreciated that.”
Indeed, the fans were there over an hour before the trio emerged for their 8:06 a.m. tee time. Thousands swelled around the opening hole, some 10 and 12 deep not long after the sun had peeked above the eucalyptus trees.
Even when Woods snapped his tee shot left and started with a double-bogey, the atmosphere bubbled on and the sea of people rolled after them like the waves off the coastline.
“It was just so interesting to see how he responded in the wake of that. In typical Tiger fashion, his body language never changed, his mood, how social he is on the golf course,” Mickelson’s caddie at the time, Jim “Bones” Mackay, recalls. “It was fascinating just to watch that unfold in terms of him knowing that he had 71 holes, at least, to go in that tournament in terms of getting it done.”
The USGA increased security and crowd control. It even had staff to keep the throng of photographers and journalists under control. The players estimated that 100 people were inside the ropes. Mickelson, without a driver in the bag, paced the group in round one with an even-par 71 to be three off the lead while Woods carded a 1-over 72 and Scott put up a 2-over 73.
“It was pretty loud at times,” Woods said.
“It was pretty interesting to tee off at 8 o'clock and have this many people out here. I was pretty impressed,” Mickelson added.
The extra police came in handy in the second round when Scott’s caddie, Tony Navarro, would find himself in a scuffle with a father and son who had become a little over-boisterous and didn’t appreciate being asked to lower their sound levels.Adam Scott hits a shot from the rough on the 18th hole during the 2008 U.S. Open. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
That Friday afternoon provided a rowdy atmosphere as Woods closed with five birdies on his final nine holes to surge back into contention. It was the beginning of the fightback towards one of his most famous victories, as he would ultimately triumph on a busted leg.
“A lot of beverages had been consumed and it was really rough and rowdy that last nine holes but it was kind of fun at that point to listen to it all because a lot was happening out there,” Scott says. “Tiger has always fed off crowds like that and giving them what they want was usually his way. It was that day.”
The late blitz helped Woods to a 68 and share of second place while Mickelson (75) and Scott (73) faded back into a tie for 35th heading to the weekend and the end of their time together.
History shows Mickelson would finish T18 and Scott T26 while Woods would create more highlights for the crowds over the weekend and then find his way into a playoff with Rocco Mediate thanks to a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole Sunday. The roars from that putt can still be heard if you put your ear against nearby trees.
Woods would beat Mediate on Monday before having surgery on his knee. He’d add another Farmers Insurance title in 2013 to continue the Torrey love affair.
Woods won’t be here this year, but Scott will be trying to continue Australians’ success at Torrey Pines, following in the footsteps of Marc Leishman and Jason Day by winning on the San Diego coast. And Mickelson will be on the heels of his PGA Championship win, seeking to complete the career Grand Slam in his hometown.