Tiger Woods sets sights on taking next step at Shinnecock

Jun 3, 2018; Dublin, OH, USA; Tiger Woods walks through the crowd after finishing the final round of The Memorial golf tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports

Tiger Woods sets sights on taking next step at Shinnecock

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Tiger Woods sets sights on taking next step at Shinnecock

DUBLIN, Ohio –  On the Sunday before the 2008 U.S. Open, Tiger Woods played nine holes at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach, Calif. Wearing a bulky brace on his left knee, which had undergone arthroscopic surgery just two months prior, Woods shot 53 and lost eight balls.

A frustrated Woods ended up tossing the brace on his way down to Torrey Pines. Eight days later he defeated Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole playoff to win his 14th major title, doing so on not only a torn anterior cruciate ligament but also a fractured tibia.

“I put all my energy into winning one event,” Woods said, “and somehow pulled it off.”

Ten years after that superhuman performance, it’s almost unfathomable that Woods still is searching for major title No. 15. But amazingly, as Woods turns his focus to the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills following a T-23 at the Memorial Tournament, he is.

“It’s hard to believe,” said Phil Mickelson, who played with Woods the first two days at Torrey Pines in 2008.

The next major at Shinnecock will be Woods’ first U.S. Open start since missing the cut at Chambers Bay in 2015 and just his ninth major appearance since the 2013 British Open, the last time Woods posted a top-10 in one of golf’s premier events.

Injuries are mostly to blame, mainly four back operations including a spinal fusion in April 2017. But even before the back problems, Woods couldn’t convert any of his nine top-6 major finishes since Torrey Pines into trophies.

“I’ve had my chances,” said Woods, most notably a runner-up finish to Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship. “And for some reason just either have not hit the ball well enough or haven’t putted well enough, or haven’t put the two together. There was always some missing piece.”

Jun 3, 2018; Dublin, OH, USA; Tiger Woods on the seventh green during the final round of The Memorial golf tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Tiger Woods has to figure out how to solve his putting problems if he hopes to contend at the U.S. Open in two weeks. (Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports)

With no more starts before Shinnecock, where he was T-17 in 2004, Woods is pleased with the overall state of his game. He has surpassed many expectations in his latest comeback, posting four finishes of T-12 or better, including a T-2 at the Valspar Championship, in nine official PGA Tour starts this season.

And he put on an impressive ballstriking performance this week at Muirfield Village – the best he’s hit it in maybe five years, he said. For the week, Woods finished first in the field in strokes gained tee-to-green and gained 11.164 of those 14.157 strokes with his approach play.

Putter remains missing piece

If only he could’ve gotten the putter to cooperate. That’s the missing piece, it seems at the moment.

Woods ranked 71st in strokes gained putting among the 72 players who played all four rounds at Memorial. He held a share of the lead after a roar-producing birdie at the par-5 15th hole Saturday but gave away too many shots with missed putts, including seven from inside of 5 feet.

“I didn’t feel comfortable with my lines and my feel was a little bit off,” Woods said. “Consequently, I missed a bunch of putts. … I’m starting to hit the golf ball better. If I just make a few more putts like I did earlier in the year, when I was putting really well – you put those two together, then I’ll have something.”

Ten years ago at Torrey Pines, Woods arguably had one of the best putting weeks of his career, rivaling the 1997 Masters, 2000 U.S. Open and 2000 British Open.

“I don’t think I really missed a putt inside 10 feet in any of those four major championships,” Woods said. “And that was a week that I needed it because I didn’t really hit the ball as well as those other three majors that I mentioned.”

Jack Nicklaus, the Memorial’s host, more bluntly described Woods’ victory in 2008: “He drove it all over the place.”

Woods double-bogeyed his first hole three times in four days that week. But he also made three eagles and drained a birdie putt on his 72nd hole to force a playoff. On one leg, he got the job done, willing himself to victory in 91 holes.

“I knew when I woke up on Monday morning that I was going to win. I knew it. I felt it,” Mediate said. “But great players like him – I think he’s the greatest ever, in my opinion – find a way somehow. They just do things you’re not supposed to do. He did it all the time.”

Fellow pros expecting Tiger’s 15th major soon

Judging by Woods’ 14-to-1 odds to win in Southampton, N.Y., in two weeks, there is still a prevalent sense that he’s not done pulling off what some might consider the unthinkable, even at age 42. A lot of his peers share that feeling.

“Not only is he going to win again, but I think he’ll win more majors,” Mickelson said. “I don’t think that was his last major.”

Based on what Woods has shown in the last few months – a mix of brilliant ballstriking and short-game prowess, just not all at once – should we expect anything different? Gwk

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