It might not be an overstatement to suggest that this is the most important weekend of Tiger Woods' career.

It is certainly not a stretch to say that this weekend – if it ends with a victory for the 36-year-old Woods in the U.S. Open at San Francisco's Olympic Club – could redefine a legacy that added more than a few unwanted chapters over the past three years.


A win would be the 74th PGA Tour victory for Woods, who recently tied Jack Nicklaus for second place behind Sam Snead all-time. More importantly, it would be his 15th major championship, ending a four-year drought in majors and restarting his pursuit of Nicklaus' record of 18.

Saturday's third-round will be a crucible in itself for Woods. Coming in tied for the lead with two other former one-time major champions, David Toms and Jim Furyk, it will be important for Woods to keep or build the lead going into Sunday.

I would love to see players like Toms and Furyk stay in the hunt, too, and others within four shots of the lead – including 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell at 1-over – keep the pressure on Woods.

If Woods can win on one leg, as he did four years ago in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines when he had played with a broken leg and torn knee ligaments – he can win this weekend. He is, again, clearly the player to beat.

He is a better ball-striker than he was then, but his putting is not even close to what it used to be. That little birdie putt on 17 he missed on Friday – after hitting an otherworldly recovery from down the hill behind the green to within 5 feet of the cup – made him look like the Phil Mickelson of old more than an old Tiger Woods.

This Open, like many, is going to be won more with grinding than greatness. Woods, despite being the greatest player on the planet for more than a decade, has always been more of a frontrunner. That's why he once won a U.S. Open by 15 strokes and a Masters by 12. Once he took the lead, he charged while others cowered.

Those who have followed Woods over the years are well aware that he has never come from behind going into the final round to win a major championship. Given what he has gone through – rebuilding his image after the self-induced destruction of his marriage and rebuilding his game after undergoing two knee injuries – you would think this little piece of trivia would be something Woods isn't thinking about.

Believe me, he is.

Which is why this weekend could be the most important of Woods' career.

A victory at Olympic will redefine his legacy and put him back on track to take a swing at Nicklaus' record.

It will certainly be interesting to watch.