Friday, June 14, 2024

Tiger Woods arrives at U.S. Open with a new coach — and 1 thing to prove

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Tiger Woods ahead of the 2024 U.S. Open.

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The last time we saw Tiger Woods at a golf tournament in front of a microphone — at last month’s PGA Championship, following a missed cut — he explained his ongoing dilemma. To play well in a tournament he needs to play more tournaments. But his body won’t allow him to play more tournaments. He sounded sad as he laid it out, like he’s trying desperately to solve a problem with no solution.

But one tournament’s late-week hopelessness is the next tournament’s fresh start. They hand out optimism at the registration table. So when Woods met with the media on Tuesday morning ahead of this week’s U.S. Open, he brought a wide smile and a long list of things that have him excited.

He’s excited to be back playing a U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, for starters. Woods missed the 2014 playing of the event, so before last week’s scouting mission he hadn’t been here since 2005, when he finished second to Michael Campbell. He finished third in 1999, his other start here.

“It’s great to be back,” he said. “I love U.S. Opens. I love the tests of U.S. Opens. I’ve had a little bit of success here back in ’99 and 2005. I’m looking forward to this week and getting it underway.”

He’s excited specifically about the condition of the course, which promises to play firm and fast and test every aspect of a player’s creativity.

“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.”

That’s partly why he mounted an early scouting mission, he said — there are shots you just can’t simulate at home, even if you have a short-game complex in your backyard.

Woods sounded excited about the torture chamber those conditions will create for this week’s competitors. He played a practice round on Monday with Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas and another on Tuesday morning with Max Homa and Min Woo Lee and was practically giddy describing how the course had crisped up.

“The last few days playing practice rounds — I’m guilty as well as the rest of the guys I’ve played with — we’ve putted off a lot of greens,” he admitted. “It depends how severe the USGA wants to make this and how close they want to get us up to those sides.

“But I foresee just like in ’05 watching some of the guys play ping-pong back and forth. It could happen.”

He even made a scoring prediction. By week’s end, he said, the Bermuda grass may get so slick that when you lean on your putter to fix a ball mark it might slip right out from under you.

“It has that look and feel that this could be one of the Opens where whatever the leading score is, that’s probably as low as we’ll ever go after the first day,” he said.

Woods was also excited to detail the job description of his new coach: his son Charlie. We first saw the two working together on Sunday at Augusta National, when his 15-year-old son joined him on the driving range ahead of his final round. This week he’s in an even more official role.

“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. I tell him what to look for, especially with my putting. He gave me a couple little side bits today, which was great, because I get so entrenched in hitting certain putts to certain pins, I tend to forget some of the things I’m working on.

“We have a great relationship and rapport like that, and it’s a wonderful experience for both of us.”

Woods even expressed optimism about the PGA Tour’s meeting with the Saudi Public Investment Fund, LIV Golf’s backer, which took place last week in New York. Rory McIlroy had described it as a productive step forward in envisioning the future of pro golf. Woods agreed with that assessment.

“It was productive,” Woods said. “And is there light at the end of tunnel? I think we’re closer to that point than we were pre-meeting. We discussed a lot of different endings and how we get there. I think that both sides walked away from the meeting — we all felt very positive in that meeting.

“As I said, both sides were looking at different ways to get to the end game. I think that both sides shared a deep passion for how we need to get there. And yes, there are going to be differences of opinion, but we all want the same thing.”

Woods even sounded excited about the weather, which is expected to be hot and humid all week.

“It’s like home,” he said. “Hot and humid is what we deal with every single day at home in Florida, so that’s nothing new.” He even slipped in an age joke at the expense of the reporter who’d asked the question.

“I would rather play in hot, humid conditions any day than anything cold. I think pretty much anyone my age to your age will definitely like it a little hotter.”

Big-picture, though, Woods is excited because this week he has something to prove. While he’s demonstrated grit in recent made cuts and shown flashes of strong play as recently as the PGA Championship, where he was in red figures for his first 16 holes, he hasn’t strung together four good rounds since 2020, his most recent time in contention. He hopes this is the week that changes.

“I feel like I have the strength to be able to do it. It’s just a matter of doing it,” Woods said. “This golf course is going to test every single aspect of your game, especially mentally, and just the mental discipline that it takes to play this particular golf course, it’s going to take a lot.

“We’ve been working on that and making sure that I understand the game plan and can be ready in two more days.”

On Thursday we’ll see the results of his prep work plus his optimism in real time. The scouting trip, the fitness work, the short-game sessions, the 4-irons bumped and run up and onto one green after the next — what will it be worth? That’s the beauty of Thursdays and Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays, particularly at this tournament. They’re a test. And that’s the beauty of Woods, a man who’s aced that test, daring to show up to take it again.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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