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Woods limps into US Open after long layoff

SAN DIEGO - The U.S. Open, San Diego style, brought morning fog that clung to the cliffs and spilled over to Torrey Pines Golf Course when Tiger Woods showed up for another nine-hole session Tuesday.

The setting could not have been more appropriate.

What once had been such a clear picture of this U.S. Open is now shrouded with uncertainty, starting with the left knee of the No. 1 player in the world. Woods has not played a competitive round since his runner-up finish at the Masters on April 13, having surgery two days later to clean out cartilage.

Perhaps even more startling was that Woods has not walked 18 holes since that Sunday at Augusta National - and most likely won't until he steps to the first tee Thursday morning.

'Is it fully recovered?' he said. 'Probably not.'

Woods played 171/2 holes last Wednesday in a cart, then retreated to his club in southern California for more cart golf over the weekend. Then came nine holes at Torrey on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and he typically doesn't play at all the day before a major begins.

It is not the ideal way to prepare for a major, and Woods has that down to a science. What helps is that he has owned Torrey Pines as much as any other golf course in the world, winning the Buick Invitational for the sixth time in January, by a tournament-record eight shots.

That made him an overwhelming favorite for the U.S. Open - but that was before knee surgery.

'It's difficult to take the amount of time he took off and come to a U.S. Open and dominate the way he has,' Jim Furyk said. 'That being said, nothing he does surprises me.'

Sergio Garcia, among those expected to contend this week, said that didn't make him any less of a favorite.

'It's like Big Brown, with a crack (in the hoof),' Garcia said. 'He was still the favorite.'

Someone reminded Garcia that Big Brown failed to win the Triple Crown, finishing last among nine horses at the Belmont Stakes.

'Still a top 10,' Garcia quipped.

Cameras flashed in the fog when Woods teed off, and thousands of spectators followed him along the back nine of the South Course, looking for a limp or the slightest sign of a game that would not be able to stand the rigors of 72 holes of golf's toughest test. That's assuming, of course, that Woods makes it all 72 holes.

The last time he played the U.S. Open after such a long layoff was two years ago at Winged Foot, when he returned from nine weeks off to deal with his father's death. He shots rounds of 76-76 and missed the cut for the only time in a major.

Nothing looked out of the ordinary in the two hours it took him to play nine holes with Bubba Watson and Jordan Cox, an amateur from Stanford. If there was one moment to watch, it came on the par-5 13th that has stretched to 614 yards, a tee so far back from the course that Woods said, 'We're almost in the ocean.'