Tiger can forget about Open title
Errant drives in 1st round shows star isn't close to ending majors drought
Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - Maybe eight is enough. Or maybe it will be nine or 10. At this point, who is to say how many majors might go by before the artist formerly known as Tiger Woods shows up.
The No. 1 sports figure on the planet has been insisting for months now he is “close.” Perhaps he means he is close to hitting a fairway, close as in the general vicinity, the same area code. What the heck, Lou Reed is close to being a good singer, Jack Benny was close to being a virtuoso violinist, Kobe Bryant is close to being a team player. And look how close David Duval is.
The ambiguous “TW” arrived at the LIRR stop in Southampton this week in high spirits. A nasty seven-major hangover wasn’t dragging him down one bit.
“Whether I come in here with my game great or my game not so great, whatever it is, as long as I come in here fresh, I feel like I can still win,” Woods said early in the week.
Based on early returns, you can check the “not so great” box on the menu. Woods opened for business at Shinnecock Hills on Thursday with a 2-over-par 72, an introductory offer that suggests this championship will go to another bidder.
U.S. Opens have not been kind to His Slumpness when he comes out sweatin’ to the 70s. He has done so in six of his previous nine Opens and in those events, he has finished no better than a tie for 12th. Woods has started three U.S. Opens with rounds in 60s, winning two of those and finishing third in the other.
Want more gloom? Woods has never won a tournament in which he was over-par after the first round.
The discernible trend is easy to identify, just as there is a recognizable glitch in Woods’ wayward game. He came to Shinnecock ranked 147th in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour, hitting less than 60 percent of his fairways. After the first round, you can take that down a notch. He landed 35.7 percent of Shinnecock’s fairways on Thursday, hit only 50 percent of its greens in regulation.
When it was over, the player who has won this tournament twice, won it by 12 strokes before, was reduced to playing the “bad bounce” card.
“Playing on a links course like this, with a lot of mounds on it, and fairways that are really firm, you’re going to get some good shots that end up in the rough,” said Woods, defying traditional golf theory that suggests “good shots” never wind up in the rough.
“We hit some good shots out there that should have been in the fairway but didn’t end up there just because of the funky bounces you’re going to get. That’s part of playing links-style golf courses.”
This is not a place where you get well, this is a place you survive. Combine the last 144 holes of U.S. Open competition on this pricey property and you get no further than 1-under par. Woods had played the last five majors at 20-over par coming into this week. The numbers don’t seem compatible.
Woods is close, all right. Close to losing the No. 1 seed he has held for 253 consecutive weeks, for 331 weeks overall. Eighteen holes of Shinnecock almost had Woods conceding.
“It’s never going to stay that way,” he said, referring to his previous hot streak in the majors. “I had a great stretch where I was playing fantastic golf. I carried that for about four or five years and it’s been a nice little run.
True enough. Those who set standards should be judged by them, but they should not be punished by them. If Woods were any less of a player, he would be doing a Duval right now. He would be rooming with Chip Beck, impersonating Ian Baker-Finch.
But this spell he is in includes a victory in the WGC Match Play Championship earlier this year and seven Top 10s in 10 starts. His undisciplined driver has forced him to play some of the most entertaining, creative golf of his career.
There are contrary standards to consider, precedents to suggest the spell will be broken, the major Midas touch will return. Woods has eight major titles at the age of 28 and he has gone seven majors without one. Jack Nicklaus had seven majors at age 27 and went 12 majors with out on before finishing with 18.
Woods has been in this transitional plane before. After he won the 1997 Masters in record-breaking fashion, he overhauled his swing and went 10 majors without a win. When he booted back up, he reeled off four in a row, five of six and seven of 11.
“I don't think we ever thought we would see a players as dominant as Jack Nicklaus, and then Tiger came along and was every bit as dominant,” Phil Mickelson said. “I don't know if we’ve caught him, if the gap has narrowed or not. But I think we all expect him to come out and light it up like he usually does. And I think it’s very, very soon going to happen. I just hope we can put it off as long as possible.”
The way things look now, you can put it off for at least another week.