Woods battles to 78 at U.S. Open
June 14, 2018
By Sean Martin , PGATOUR.COM
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – New York fans quickly become cruel when their stars don’t perform to their standards. It was just a couple months ago that Giancarlo Stanton was booed before he completed his first home game as a Yankee.
Tiger Woods heard his first jeer just as quickly at this U.S. Open on Long Island. The stunned silence after Woods tapped in for a 7 on Shinnecock Hills’ tame opening hole was broken by one man yelling, “Welcome to Shinnecock, Tiger!” His tone made it clear that he was not an overenthusiastic ambassador for the Southampton Chamber of Commerce.
The fan’s sneering sarcasm would quickly be forgotten, drowned out by the supportive spectators hungering for Woods to win his first major in 10 years. It was much harder for Woods to overcome Shinnecock’s unkind greeting to his first U.S. Open in three years. A first-round 78 seems to have ended his chances of winning 15th major. Twice in the opening round did he play back-to-back holes in 4 over par.
After starting with a triple and a bogey, Woods battled the wind and Shinnecock Hills’ firm conditions to play the next 10 holes in even par. His U.S. Open chances still produced the slightest pulse with each par save. Even at the height of his greatness, it was Woods’ ability to grind out pars in the toughest conditions that gave him the most pride.
“All I had to do after that start was try to shoot even par for the next 16 holes and I’d be fine. The guys aren’t going anywhere today,” Woods said. He cited the 1986 U.S. Open here, when Raymond Floyd was able to win with a final-round 66 after shooting 75 in the first round. “This golf course is kind of setting up for that right now.”
But all of Thursday’s work came crashing down with back-to-back doubles at 13 and 14. He four-putted the 13th, then hit two shots at the 14th before his ball found the fairway. When he missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th, Woods could only snicker like a man who knew the game had gotten the best of him on this day.
He was hardly the only player whose high hopes were dashed Thursday. Rory McIlroy had been enjoying his golf trip to Long Island until he shot 80. At least Jason Day had only a short walk to his RV after shooting 79. Shinnecock Hills usually waits until Sunday to break Phil Mickelson’s heart but that likely won’t be the case this year after a 77. Jon Rahm shot 78.
Like the Masters, Woods arrived at this major after showing promise in his previous starts. His 11th-place finish at THE PLAYERS included his career-low round at TPC Sawgrass, a third-round 65. He battled a balky putter at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide but got high enough on the leaderboard to spike television ratings and incite the social-media masses.
Fans can ogle his TrackMan numbers and marvel at his tee shots, but the margins are too slim, especially at majors, for Woods to win while throwing away so many strokes. It’s hard to be critical of a man who months ago wondered if he would ever play again, but Woods will need to find a way to minimize such mistakes.
At TPC Sawgrass, he was pressuring front-runner Webb Simpson until playing the final five holes in 3 over, including a rinsed tee shot on the island-green 17th.
Woods made 17 birdies and two eagle at Muirfield Village, but he also lost nearly 8 strokes on the greens and hit a tee shot out-of-bounds. He finished six shots behind winner Bryson DeChambeau.
Putting bore the biggest the blame Thursday. He missed just five fairways but the one that sailed well right at 14 cost him two shots.
“I didn’t putt well,” Woods said Thursday. “I drove it pretty darn good most of the day, but I didn’t take advantage of those opportunities.
“It’s frustrating because I’m hitting it well. In the last four tournaments, I have not putted well. If I can putt like I did at the beginning of the year, we’ve got something. I just haven’t done that.”
Because of his afternoon tee time, Woods was able to watch on TV as his peers struggled with the high winds that buffeted Shinnecock. He made it a goal to avoid any scores of double-bogey or worse.
“Instead, I had three of them,” he said.
He was 7 over par on three holes Thursday. It started with Shinnecock’s benign opening hole, a downhill par-4 of 399 yards that is short enough for some players to consider driving the green.
Woods went with an iron off the tee, as did the two players who rounded out his star-studded threesome, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas. All three found the first hole’s generous fairway, which was widened by the Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw restoration to this historic course.
Coore and Crenshaw also added short grass around Shinnecock Hills’ greens to make the course more closely resemble the William Flynn design that opened in 1931. Those crispy, closely-mown areas may look less intimidating than the thick rough that is the U.S. Open’s trademark, but they are infinitely more frustrating.
Woods showed that after his 135-yard approach flew the green. Short grass provides players options, and Woods used multiple strategies to try and get up-and-down on No. 1. Unfortunately, all were unsuccessful.
First, he tried to flop it. His ball landed on the green but not far enough to carry the steep slope on the back of the putting surface. His ball slowly trickled back off the green. Woods tried to putt the next two but the first one almost rolled back to his feet and the next rolled 8 feet past the hole. Two putts from there completed a triple-bogey.
“I hit it right through the wind and compounded my problem,” Woods said. “I actually hit a really good flop shot. The wind actually knocked it down. Then I hit two bad putts on 1 and 2.”
After Woods missed a 4-foot par putt on the next hole, it was fair to wonder how long his yacht would be docked in nearby Montauk. Woods closed the front nine with six pars and a birdie, though. A bogey at the par-3 11th returned him to 4 over par. His disastrous doubles came two holes later.
Woods played the previous two U.S. Opens at Shinnecock Hills with limited success. This was the site of his debut, in 1995, after winning the first of his three consecutive U.S. Amateurs. He only completed 24 holes, though, after injuring his wrist hitting out of the fescue rough. Woods finished T17 after shooting 10 over par in 2004, a year when he failed to win a stroke-play title while working through swing changes.
If Woods is to contend this week, he can’t afford to make the same mistakes that he made Thursday, though.
“Shoot something in the 60s tomorrow and I’ll be just fine,” Woods said. “I just think today was the toughest day we’ll have all week. But then again, I think they’re going to let these greens firm out a little bit. They’ll start to pick up a little bit of speed, and it will be a good U.S. Open again.”