By Edgar Thompson
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 8:32 p.m. Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Posted: 6:50 p.m. Wednesday, June 15, 2011
BETHESDA, Md. — The U.S. Open will miss Tiger Woods this week at Congressional Country Club.
But Johnny Miller said golf fans have begun to acclimate to the absence of the game’s marquee attraction.
"I think the U.S. golf fan, the world golf fan is unfortunately getting used to not having Tiger around," said Miller, the lead analyst during NBC’s coverage of the 111th U.S. Open. "Obviously we’d like to have him here, but golf is bigger than Tiger.
"For awhile, it was a toss-up."
Woods, 35, will miss his first U.S. Open since he was an amateur in 1994. He continues to recover from injuries to his left knee and Achilles tendon.
During his career-long, 19-month winless streak, Woods has been plagued by lingering injuries and personal strife, and has undergone a swing change.
In the process, he’s played just 22 full-field events worldwide, with six top-10 finishes – nearly a third his 2009 total (17) in 19 events.
Woods’ Sunday charge on April 10 at the Masters indicated better days finally were ahead, even though he missed some key putts that ultimately led to a tie for fourth place.
But rather than work on his game, Woods had to rest injuries he re-aggravated during the third round at Augusta National. He tried to play a month later at The Players Championship, but withdrew after shooting a 43 for nine holes.
If Woods, a three-time U.S. Open winner, had played this week, he’d have been rusty, lacking confidence and likely out of the mix on Sunday.
Miller, the 1973 winner, would have liked to have seen for himself, but said the U.S. Open will go on without Woods.
"There is nothing like the U.S. Open," Miller said. "There’s more train wrecks and car wrecks than any other championship.
"I’m sure the ratings would be higher if Tiger is in contention on Sunday, but bottom line it’s going to be great. It’s the U.S. Open, man."
Els returns to site of ’97 win: A lot has changed since Ernie Els won his second U.S. Open at Congressional in 1997.
Els is 14 years older and the course is more than 300 yards longer.
But Els, a South Africa native who lives in Jupiter, believes neither are enough to keep him from an elusive third U.S. Open trophy. After all, just last year, he felt he let one get away at Pebble Beach, where he stumbled in the final round for a fourth-place tie.
"We flew from Pebble to Munich the next week, and I was just as flat as I’ve ever been in my life," he said. "That really was quite a big disappointment."
It hasn’t gotten much better in 2011.
Els, a three-time major winner who also won the 2002 British Open, has not finished better than 15th in 13 tournaments.
Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May, Els still believes he has the game and mental fortitude to return to the top.
"I had a good week off last week, played out here, got myself familiar with the course again, got great vibes," he said. "So I’m looking forward to a good week."