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Short game especially important for Woods at Pinehurst

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Tiger Woods speaks to media prior to the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

Tiger Woods speaks to media prior to the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)



    Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin

    PINEHURST, N.C. -- When Tiger Woods arrived at Pinehurst last week, it was his first time on the property in nearly two decades.

    He had not been back since finishing second to Michael Campbell in the 2005 U.S. Open, an upset sandwiched between Woods’ victories in that year’s Masters and Open Championship.

    Woods finished two shots behind the New Zealander who won his lone PGA TOUR title that week, making six birdies in the final 15 holes to put pressure on Campbell. But bogeys on 16 and 17, the latter a three-putt from 25 feet, proved to be the difference in a week when Woods’ putter held him back.

    He also lost by two in the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, finishing in a tie for third behind winner Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson. The putter was costly once again, as Woods missed a 3-footer on 11 and 5-footer on the 17th hole.


    Tiger Woods on having son Charlie with him at Pinehurst for U.S. Open


    So much has changed since Woods last competed here. The course underwent a dramatic renovation more than a decade ago, with acres of rough being removed in favor of sandy areas replete with native plants. What once was lush and manicured is now rustic and raw.

    Woods was in his prime when he played Pinehurst -- winning more than half his majors between his two appearances here -- but now is in the twilight of his competitive days as he nears 50. Just completing four rounds has proven to be difficult for Woods in the wake of multiple surgeries. Woods has always had the fortitude to compete even when his body does not agree, and he said his fitness is improving. But, like his past performances here, his short game will be the difference.

    “Fitness is always a part of it,” Woods said in his Tuesday press conference. “I did a little bit of work on chipping and putting. But nothing can simulate what we have here this particular week, the amount of little shots and the knobs and run-offs, and either using wedges or long irons or woods around the greens or even putter. There's so many different shots that you really can't simulate unless you get on the property. That's one of the reasons I came up here last Tuesday, to be able to try and do that.”

    Though this Pinehurst looks dramatically different than the one Woods last saw, its trademark greens remain the same and will require the creativity and imagination that Woods loves to see in courses. It’s the reason Augusta National and St. Andrews resonate so deeply with him and something he has tried to replicate in his own design work.

    Players will use everything from fairway woods to wedge shots around the greens this week. More options also require more preparation, something that Woods’ body doesn’t allow him to do much. The Genesis Invitational in February is his only start in 2024 outside of the majors, and he had to withdraw from that one after only 24 holes because of the flu.

    Woods made the cut at the Masters, and was only two shots outside the top 10 at the halfway point, but finished last among players who made the cut after struggling to 82-77 on the weekend. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship, plagued by struggles around the greens. The majority of the strokes he lost to the field came on and around the greens.

    The penalty for misplayed shots around the greens is especially harsh this week. “I foresee just like in '05 watching some of the guys play ping-pong back and forth,” Woods said. “It could happen.”

    Pinehurst’s relatively flat terrain and this week’s warm weather work in Woods’ favor. And he even has an extra set of eyes to help him, his son Charlie, who is on-site this week after competing in last week’s Florida Amateur (Charlie missed the cut after shooting 70 to qualify for the tournament). Charlie had yet to be born the last time Woods competed here.

    “I trust him with my swing and my game,” Tiger said. “He's seen it more than anybody else in the world. He's seen me hit more golf balls than anyone.”

    Sean Martin is a senior editor for the PGA TOUR. He is a 2004 graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Attending a small school gave him a heart for the underdog, which is why he enjoys telling stories of golf's lesser-known players. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.

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