Woods own worst enemy at U.S. Open
Jack Nicklaus was asked a year ago about his uncanny success in the U.S. Open (four wins, four seconds) and he said it revolved around going in a week earlier to see exactly how demanding the setup would be.
“I would be comfortable with the fairways. I would be comfortable with the depth of the rough, be comfortable with the firmness of the greens and the speed,” Nicklaus said.
“As a result, when I got there the week of the tournament, I had all those elements out of the way. As the players came in on Monday to start their practice rounds and they would say, ‘Oh, God, that rough is so deep. Oh, these greens are so hard.’ I would check them off. Don’t have to worry about them.”
This comes to mind because it occurs that had he still been in competition for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Nicklaus could have checked off Tiger Woods’ name. Those comments about the putting greens being “awful,” after all, seemed to set the tone for a miserable championship for the world’s top-ranked player.
Major Moments 2010: 110th U.S. Open: Sights and sounds
Rarely has Woods let down his guard. He surely did at Pebble, however. He seemingly talked himself into a poor putting performance, which probably was the difference between winning and finishing T-4. After all, he was T-15 in fairways hit and T-9 in greens but T-47 in putting. Over four days, he took 120 putts, 10 more than winner Graeme McDowell.
Compare Woods’ attitude to McDowell’s. Though he was outplayed by Dustin Johnson in Round 3, McDowell stood in a cool dusk and talked about how he loved the greens and had a good feel for the pace.
One final thought: Is ripping the greens at an iconic golf course in one of your sport’s most prestigious events part of his plan to be “more respectful of the game,” a pledge he made back in February?
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A little of this, a touch of that in regard to Woods:
• This is the first time in his PGA Tour career that he has reached the conclusion of the U.S. Open without a victory. Granted, it’s only five tournaments, but let’s not forget that in 2006 the U.S. Open was just his eight tournament and he had two wins. Then there was 2008, when Woods made the U.S. Open just his sixth tournament and fourth victory. In other words, the lack of competition has never been an issue before.
• Woods has not finished ahead of Phil Mickelson in any of the five tournaments in which they’ve played thus far.
• More startling is how far behind Woods has been after each run thus far. In fact, he has yet to be closer than the two strokes by which he trailed in his first two rounds at the Masters. In 15 rounds since then, Woods has trailed by an average of 7.8 strokes.
• The good news: He has vaulted into “automatic” territory regarding the Ryder Cup standings, sitting seventh in the standings.
• The bad news: He is foundering in 100th place in the FedEx Cup standings.
• His lead in the world rankings over Mickelson is .78 point. It was 6.294 on Jan. 3, and 4.293 right before he made his return at the Masters.
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Before closing the book on the 2010 U.S. Open, some final thoughts, observations and wonderments:
• Davis Love III finished joint sixth, just his third Top 10 in 13 tries at the national open since he squandered his best chance to win, in 1996 at Oakland Hills.
• Love qualified out of the Columbus, Ohio, site, which was heralded to be much stronger than the international one in Surrey, England. But let’s give credit to those unheralded Europeans who earned their way at Surrey, most notably Frenchman Gregory Havret, the runner-up. When all the numbers were crunched, five of the 12 qualifiers from Surrey made the cut, eight of the 16 from Columbus.
• Mickelson (T-4) now has seven finishes inside the top five, matching Woods.
• Early in the tournament, Ernie Els was asked about the demanding par-3 17th. It requires either a deft draw from 200 yards or a ball that scrapes the moon before landing on a table top over a bunker. “I don’t have that shot,” Els said, laughing. Turns out he wasn’t lying, because he played the 17th in 5 over (three bogeys and a double).
• Sergio Garcia finished T-22, but seriously, did anyone know he was in the field?
• Of the 49 first-time U.S. Open participants, 16 made the cut, including Havret.