NEW YORK – It's been 10 years since Tiger Woods limped to victory in the 2008 US Open, an unlikely triumph that has been followed by a once inconceivable major championship drought. Woods defied the pain of a damaged left knee and two stress fractures to defeat Rocco Mediate in a Monday playoff at Torrey Pines 10 years ago – forcing the decider in dramatic style with a birdie at the 72nd hole.
"That was a pretty special week, because I've had probably four majors where I've putted like that: '97 Masters, 2000 US Open, 2000 British (Open) and then that 2008 (US Open)," Woods said.
"I don't think I really missed a putt inside 10 feet in any of those four major championships. And that was a week that I needed it because I didn't really hit the ball as well as those other three majors that I mentioned."
Making Woods's 2008 US Open victory even more remarkable, it was his first tournament since an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee eight weeks earlier – although only a handful of people knew the extent of Woods's injuries at the time. Two days after the victory, Woods announced he was having season-ending knee surgery.
The decade that followed saw scandal, success and further fitness woes that finally left Woods wondering not only whether he would resume his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles but whether he would ever compete or even have a normal life again.
"The last couple years have felt like a very long time," Woods says. "A second seemed like 24 hours. Last year in September, I didn't know, I just didn't know if I would ever be able to do it again. I was just hoping to be able to walk again without hurting, to be able to sit down again without having this burning pain down the leg. To somehow be out here now doing it again, it's a blessing."
Woods will be playing his 26th major since Torrey Pines when he tees it up in the 118th US Open at Shinnecock Hills next Thursday. He's had nine top-10 finishes in Grand Slam events since his last win. A runner-up finish in the 2009 PGA Championship notwithstanding, Woods says his best chance to snag a 15th major came at the 2011 Masters, where he started the last round seven adrift but surged into contention with a five-under front nine.
"I felt like I had all the momentum," said Woods – who cooled off coming in to finish with a share of fourth. "That was the one I could have gotten."
Woods hasn't won a tournament since he captured his eighth WGC Bridgestone Invitational title at Akron, Ohio, in 2013 -- one of five titles he claimed that year as he reclaimed the world number one ranking. Woods's latest return from injury has shown inevitable inconsistencies but enough quality to predict he'll win again. Woods put on his best ball-striking display of the season at the Memorial, leading the field in strokes gained tee to green.
But a balky putter cost him shots and after he electrified the crowd at Muirfield Village by briefly putting his name atop the leaderboard on Saturday he finished tied for 23rd.
"I just need to hit better putts," said Woods, who certainly will if he's to have a shot at Shinnecock.
But Nicklaus sees no reason the 42-year-old superstar won't add to his tally of major titles.
"I've always said that if Tiger comes back and plays then he's still got a shot at breaking my record," Nicklaus said. "Even with now 10-years passing it doesn't make any difference. He's still a great athlete and a great golfer."