PGA Tour Players Speak on Woods’ Game
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Tiger Woods concluded his preparation for the 118th U.S. Open on Wednesday at rainy Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. He was scheduled to play an early morning practice round, but scrapped it due to inclement weather.
Woods hit balls and worked on his short game, sharing a few laughs with Rory McIlroy.
Woods begins first round play on Thursday at 1:47 p.m. ET on the first tee with Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas.
The forecast on Long Island calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70s Thursday through Sunday. Winds of 12-25 miles per hour are expected Thursday, but will decrease the rest of the week.
Shinnecock measures 7,440 yards and plays to a par-70. It boasts five par-4s of 470 yards or longer, and has only two par-5s.
Woods, making his first U.S. Open start since 2015, has recorded three victories in 19 pro appearances. He has recorded eight top 10s and has finished 20th or higher 10 times.
This year, Woods has competed in nine PGA Tour events and has posted two top 5s and four top 12s He ranks sixth in strokes gained tee to green and 22nd in scrambling.
Jordan Spieth played nine holes with Woods on Sunday. He said having Woods back on the PGA Tour is a big plus for golf.
“It’s to the game in general,” said Spieth. “It adds a whole ’nother level for sure. I think it’s great for the sport. He loves the game and he loves to compete and he wants to win. And that’s what he’s been obsessed with and it’s what’s driven him, and it’s why he’s so successful.”
Spieth thinks players are grateful about Woods’ return, collectively and individually.
“The kind of extra to that is it’s good for the rest of us,” he said. “He, like Jack and Arnie, are in that elite company that have shifted the game and made it popular and made the way of life significantly different for professional golfers. We certainly owe him a lot.”
According to Spieth, no golfer has endured more scrutiny.
“He’s been dissected to the nth degree on everything he’s doing and every practice swing on a Monday,” said Spieth said. “I think that’s pretty bizarre. But it is what it is, and he handles it the way he wants to handle it, and goes about his business not really caring about what people think and does it because he loves to do it.”
Long-time friend Steve Stricker played nine holes with Woods on Monday. They will serve as assistant captains to Jim Furyk at the Ryder Cup in September.
“He’s happy with his game, this is like a second lease on life, he gets to play again,” Stricker said. “He probably thought at one point he couldn’t come back out here and compete.”
The 42-year-old Woods has been a mentor to Jason Day, encouraging him through the years with calls and texts.
“I think a lot of people are kind of chomping at the bit for him to come back and do something special,” said Day.
On Monday, Day hit practice balls next to Woods.
“They sounded really solid, in the middle of the face,” he said.
Day needled him about his old golf pants on social media.
“Most of the time he texts right back,” Day said. “But you know, since he’s come back, you can see the – like his killer instincts is kind of starting to go more towards what it used to be.”
They met up Tuesday morning on the putting green and Woods got even.
“He was putting around my hole, and he was annoying me,” said Day. “It’s great because the banter was going back and forth.”
Day thinks Woods is close to capturing his 80th PGA Tour win. Maybe at Shinnecock.
“He’s primed and ready for this week,” he said. “So it would be pretty cool to see that.
But, obviously, I don’t want that to happen because I want to win.”
Woods possesses 14 major crowns, second to Jack Nicklaus with 18. Woods’ last major title came at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
“I don’t like that feeling,” said Woods of the drought. “Over the last 10 years I haven’t done it, but the first few years of my career I did well.”
Woods is one of five players this week (Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry and Stricker) who participated in the 2004 and 1995 U.S. Opens at Shinnecock.
“I think (Tiger’s) playing good enough to win a golf tournament at any point in time,” said Spieth. “Still, to win, you’ve got to have the right things go your way at the right times.”
After missing the last two U.S. Opens and undergoing four back surgeries, Woods is thrilled to be back.
“To go from there to where I’m at now, I had no expectation of getting this far,” he said. “A lot of this is pure bonus because of where I was. To be able to have this opportunity to play in USGA events, to play against these guys, best players in the world, it’s just a great feeling and one that I don’t take for granted.”