What will fail Tiger Woods at Shinnecock Hills? It could be his driver, putter or nothing at all

June 12, 2018

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Tiger Woods offered plenty of obvious truths at his U.S. Open press conference Tuesday, as he is wont to do.

How has your life changed since your Memorial Day DUI in 2017? “It’s gotten better,” he said with a smirk.

What are Hideki Matsuyama’s chances this week? “Well, Hideki is one of the best players out there.”

Has this year been frustrating? “Golf is always frustrating,” Woods said. Thankfully he continued. “You’ve seen the tournaments I’ve played in this year,” Woods surmised to the media. “There’s always something.”

Yes, there always seems to be something with the 42-year-old version of Woods. If only he drove the ball better…the wheels wouldn’t have fallen off at Arnold Palmer’s event. If only his distance control was on point…he could have contended at Augusta. If only, if only…you know the woodpecker quote.[image:14158215]

Therein lies an ultimate struggle of the game, professionals and amateurs alike. Fix one thing, another goes. Tweak the driver, lose the putter. Some might call it an excuse, others a reason for adjustment, but that’s a bit of what life is like living as a 1 Percenter, competing on the PGA Tour. To become a winner, one must be dialed in with all parts of the game. If not, you’re going to work a lot harder to hang around, like Adam Scott, for example, who sectional qualified his way to a tee time at Shinnecock Hills.

Scott’s name is worth mentioning because that’s who Woods played like at the Memorial tournament, site of his most recent If Only, just nine days ago. Over those four days in Dublin, Ohio, Woods was the best player in the field from tee-to-green. By the same metric, Scott was 6th-best. On the greens, though, Woods was 72nd of 73. Scott? 70th. Their imitation game made the cut but kept both of them from contending on Sunday.

As for Scott, this was typical, but he doesn’t get asked about his putting when he has a dreadful performance. He is, statistically, one of the worst putters on Tour. As for Woods, it was his worst putting performance this year (by a lot), and easily one of the worst putting performances of his career. Put more simply, it was very atypical. 

“What I did at Memorial, I just didn’t feel comfortable over it,” Woods said. “I couldn’t see my lines. And those greens were quick, and I just didn’t feel comfortable and didn’t hit many good putts. I hit a lot of bad ones.” Don’t feel comfortable? Welcome to golf’s Mount Everest of discomfort, the U.S. Open. The weather, thankfully, seems permissible for climbing.

Before his press conference, Woods played with two polar ends of the golfer spectrum, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau. They are also the two most recent winners on the PGA Tour. Take that however you may, but it signifies something a lot of people have discussed around Woods this week: he’s now a decade removed from his last major win (the 2008 U.S. Open) and more than five years removed since his last Tour win. Hanging around recent champions can’t hurt.

Continuing his typical obvious truths in the press room, Woods says he made the most of these last nine days since the Memorial. “Just had to hit a lot of putts, just put in the legwork.” Dive back into the shop in Jupiter, crank on some bolts, put the time in, and come out a better golfer next time. That’s always been the solution for Woods’s latest something. But here, at the U.S. Open, something very easily turns into some things.

Can Woods fix this something…and not lose his driver? He’ll need the long club this week — Shinnecock is 500 yards longer than it ever has been. Can he keep a tight short game without losing his long game? He’s been able to do so all year. It helped charge his hype train straight into the Augusta National station, where four days of unimpressive play saw him nip the cut line and finish T32. Only Woods isn’t playing Augusta National this week, or Torrey Pines or Bay Hill.

At Shinnecock Hills, on a different setup, with different greens and much different poa annua grass — bumpy poa, as Tiger called it — Woods will either have a much better putter, keep all those other parts working in unison, and contend — or he won’t, and something (some thing) will let him down again.

“Hopefully, this is one of those weeks where I put it all together and even it out,” Woods said. “We’ll see what happens.”

He’s hopeful. He used that word four times Tuesday. Or is he hoping? Hopeful…or hoping? There’s a difference.