June 13, 2012

In Olympic tune-up, Tiger makes final preparations

SAN FRANCISCO — Tiger Woods put the finishing touches on his preparation for the 112th U.S. Open on Wednesday at the Olympic Club. He played 12 holes with former Stanford teammate Casey Martin and amateur Patrick Cantlay of UCLA.

The trio teed off the ninth hole at 7 a.m. local time in cool, foggy and misty conditions. Woods spent considerable time chipping and putting on most greens, trying to get a feel for where the pin positions might be. In the past, they were easily identifiable by white dots. However, the USGA no longer follows that practice, so players can only guess.

Woods and Martin needled each other throughout the round. When Tiger hit a nice tee shot to the par-3 15th hole, Martin complimented him.

“That means a lot coming from you,” Woods deadpanned.

At the 670-yard, par-5 16th hole, the longest hole in U.S. Open history, all three players teed off from the back markers. Martin hit another shot from what he termed the “ladies’ tees.”

As it turned out, Woods drove into the right rough, slashed a 4-iron dow n the fairway, then dazzled the large crowd by crushing a 3-wood onto the green from 256 yards through a heavy mist.

At the 520-yard, par-5 17th, Woods cut a long driver up the left side of the fairway and watched the ball release left to right, leaving an uphill shot of 205 yards to the front of the green. Tiger punched a low 4-iron onto the front of the putting surface, generating more applause from the gallery.

“Stick to the plan,” he said.

Woods hit a 5-iron and sand wedge to the par-4 18th hole and sunk a 17-foot birdie putt that he would love to repeat in Thursday’s opening round. While hundreds of spectators seated in huge bleachers behind the green appreciated it, Woods paid little attention and was already scouting pin positions.

How does the course compare to 1998, the last time Olympic hosted a U.S. Open?

“It’s a couple shots harder,” said Woods, who tied for 18th 14 years ago.

At Martin’s urging, Woods played two more holes — Nos. 1 and 2 — before calling it a day. He won’t finish a game plan until Thursday morning, when he will factor in wind, fog and tee placements. Depending on the conditions, caddie Joe LaCava said Woods could use driver six to eight times, with the likely candidates being Nos. 1, 9, 11, 12, 16 and 17.

The rest of the way, look for Tiger to tee off with 3-woods and 2-irons to play for position and avoid the scruffy rough. Just as the USGA hoped, the rough will play a big factor in the outcome of the tournament. Miss a fairway and par will be a tough proposition.

Three chipping areas are worth watching: left of the par-3 13th green, left of the 16th green and right of the 17th green. In all cases, grass has been tightly mowed, leaving players several options. Woods hit two bump-and-run sand wedges into the hill at No. 16.

“I’m just trying to get it on the green and give myself a 15-footer,” he said. “If I miss the putt, just move on and birdie the next hole.”

Woods begins first-round play on the ninth tee Thursday at 10:33 a.m. ET with Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.