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#RememberWhensdays: Tiger’s last major victory

Tiger Woods won his last major tournament at the 2008 U.S. Open in dramatic fashion

For the NBA, there couldn’t have been a better setup for the 2008 Finals series. It had historical significance: the Los Angeles Lakers were up against the Boston Celtics for the first time in over 20 years, a battle between the two most storied franchises in NBA history. And it had star power: Kobe Bryant of the Lakers vs. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen — Boston’s Big Three.

So as Game 5 tipped that Sunday in 2008 why was I — a ride-or-die basketball fan — watching, of all things, golf?

Here’s why: Tiger Woods was playing, on the fourth day of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Not only was Woods playing, he was in contention. And right about the time the NBA game was ready to tip off, Woods was standing in front of thousands of fans who surrounded the 18th green at Torrey Pines, measuring a 15-foot putt that would extend the tournament past the final round.

Of course, Woods drained the putt to force a one-day playoff the next day.

Of course, Woods beat Rocco Mediate in the 18-hole playoff to win his 14th major tournament and continue his 12-year dominance over the sport.

Of course, we expected Woods to keep the game on lock. To annihilate golfer Jack Nicklaus’ record for major tournament wins (18).

But that didn’t happen. Woods hasn’t won a major tournament since. And the announcement this week that he won’t play in the 2016 U.S. Open, which begins Thursday, casts further doubts that Woods will ever surpass Nicklaus.

He had a third surgical procedure on his back in August 2015, and is still recovering.

“I am making progress,” Woods said this week in a statement. “But I’m not yet ready for tournament competition.”

Will he ever be ready for tournament competition? Can Woods ever win on tour? Can he be dominant to win five more majors and eclipse Nicklaus?

A lot has happened since Woods made that dramatic comeback on day four of the 2008 U.S. Open, an afternoon remembered by many as one of the most exciting in golf history.

Tiger Woods tees off on the third hole during the playoff round against Rocco Mediate (not pictured) in the 2008 US Open Championship at Torrey Pines.

Tiger Woods tees off on the third hole during the playoff round against Rocco Mediate (not pictured) in the 2008 U.S. Open Championship.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

He essentially won that tournament on one leg.

In April 2008, Woods had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee just days after finishing second in the Masters Tournament. In the days leading up to the tournament, Woods was diagnosed with two stress fractures of his left tibia and was told he shouldn’t play.

Woods, an ultracompetitor, ignored the advice. His former caddy, Steve Williams, told Golf Digest about the pain Woods faced during that tournament. “On the course, the sickening click of bones rubbing together as we walked made me queasy,” Williams said. “The groans and squeaks he made were unreal. It’s the most heroic thing I’ve ever seen in golf.”

The man won a golf tournament on one leg! So when Woods had reconstructive surgery on his knee just eight days after winning the tournament, which sidelined him for eight months, the assumption was that breaking the Nicklaus record was only being delayed until Woods properly healed.

But he never got healthy. Woods injured his right Achilles tendon later in 2008. In 2010, he was sidelined with a bulging disc. Since then, an assortment of injuries have neutralized a man who had dominated the sport for 12 years.

That’s the physical impact on Woods. The mental impact might be closely aligned with the events of November 2009, after Woods crashed his Cadillac Escalade outside of his home in Florida, leading to stories of infidelity and Woods taking an extended break from golf. The reasons behind his downfall were chronicled by Wright Thompson earlier this year.

How long has it been since Woods has been a real threat in golf? Even though he won five tournaments in 2013 when he finished No. 1 one in the world rankings, ironically, the most successful African-American in golf history has had little success (if you use majors as a measure) during the entire presidency of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president.

At 40, Woods still has time to be competitive. It remains to be seen if he’ll ever regain that fire and physical ability to be great.

And if he doesn’t? We’re still left with the memories of those Sundays between 1996 and 2008, when he dominated a sport like no other. An era when wearing red on the final day of a golf tournament meant something.

When Woods sank that putt at Torrey Pines in 2008, and won the playoff the next day, he showed why he was the best golfer of his generation. He brought a Mike Tyson-like aura to the sport, winning matches through skill and intimidation.

He made brothers choose, on a June night, between golf and the NBA Finals.

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.