PINEHURST, N.C. – Toru Taniguchi was smiling during an interview after his U.S. Open third round Saturday. At one point, he even laughed. One was left thinking it might have been gallows humor.
Taniguchi, 46, is an accomplished player. He has won 19 times on the Japan Golf Tour. But Saturday was something else for him. He shot a pair of 44s for a stunning 88, by five shots the highest score so far at Pinehurst No. 2.
“My smile disappeared at some point on the course,” the affable Japanese player said through an interpreter. Asked how he felt about his round, Taniguchi spoke and the interpreter said, “It was a clinging-to-his-life situation.”
Taniguchi shook this reporter’s hand before and after our one-on-one interview. Remarkably, he also spent about 40 minutes talking with Japanese journalists. One wouldn’t have known he barely had broken 90.
His on-course woes stemmed from his inability to hit greens in regulation. He hit only four of 18 for the day. That inaccuracy led to a triple bogey, four double bogeys and seven bogeys. On top of that, he took 33 putts.
He not only had trouble with approach shots, he had problems getting his chips and pitches close to the tucked pins on the turtle-back greens.
“It was about the pin placements,” he said. “I couldn’t get my second shots to the green. If you can’t hit the right spots, it falls off.”
Taniguchi, once ranked in the world top 30, had made the cut on the number with 72-73. In the second round, he hit 12 greens in regulation, a far cry from Saturday’s effort.
If nothing else, the difficult hole placements and the high scores of Taniguchi and some other early starters suggest there probably won’t be many low scores among the leaders late in the afternoon.