SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods played a practice round Monday at Shinnecock Hills. The U.S. Ryder Cup team vice captains got a feel for the grounds ahead of the U.S. Open, and Stricker liked what he saw from Woods.
“All is good,” Stricker said. “It all looks good. He’s swinging at it good, his attitude seems great. It was fun to be out there with him and it looks like he’s swinging at it like the days of old.”
Stricker and Woods also played a practice round with U.S. captain Jim Furyk before the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook, just a few weeks after Furyk publicly announced them as his assistants for the matches in Paris.
“I honestly believe he’s gonna win a golf tournament this calendar year,” Furyk said.
Furyk also evoked a “days of old” comparison to describe Woods’ iron play, but his performance over two days at Shinnecock Hills was much more aligned with everything we’ve seen in the here and now.
While Furyk and Stricker played their way to the weekend, Woods shot 78-72 to miss the cut at 10 over.
He hasn’t seriously contended in three months now, and save for a brilliant weekend at the Players Championship his results are firmly rooted in present day.
“It’s just what I’ve done the last few events,” Woods said. “I just haven’t putted well. You know, if I would have putted like I did the beginning of the year with this ballstriking, that would be ideal. Unfortunately, I just haven’t done that.”
Everyone still enjoys the show, peers included, and Woods essentially said early in the week that he’s playing with house money these days. After four back surgeries and 42 birthdays, Woods thought his time was up.
That’s the type of self-reflection that comes off the golf course. On the course, it’s clear Woods still expects more. The old signs of frustration pop up from time to time, as they did when Woods sprayed a drive at No. 18, his ninth hole of the second round. Hitting out of the deep stuff right of the fairway, he couldn’t muscle his ball to the putting surface and ended up in a greenside bunker.
Woods’ internal fire still burns
In those types of moments the newly calm, smiling Woods disappears. A switch flips in an instant and deep-rooted hardwiring takes over. He takes a violent one-handed chop at the fescue, as if swinging a machete.
Woods’ words are different now, but the internal fire still burns. Just like the old days.
He continued to fight and finished the round with consecutive birdies before heading home.
“We all just expect so much of him,” Furyk said. “If I had double fusion in my lower back and I was playing golf right now, I’d feel like Superman. We expect him to go out and win golf tournaments and major championships. That’s kind of the bad part of being Tiger Woods. But he’s never really ceased to amaze us in the past. Maybe ya’ll should just start doubting him a little bit. He seems to play good then.”
Like when he began this comeback in Florida, rolling out finishes of T-12, T-2 and T-5 in consecutive events. Caddie Joe LaCava was with him every step of the way and has seen him play more golf this year than anyone on the planet. If external doubt is beginning to creep in, it hasn’t affected Team Woods.
‘Expectations are always high’
As LaCava walked purposefully toward the practice green following a Tuesday round with Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, weaving through fans and stopping just once for a quick photo, he was asked about Woods’ chances this week.
“Expectations are always high, cause he’s Tiger,” LaCava said.
Woods hasn’t looked that far off lately. He played Shinnecock’s manageable No. 1 hole in 5 over this week. He was in the fairway both times. Had he converted a pair of pars he would have been 5 over going into the weekend. The lead entering the final round was 3 over.
Now he’ll reboot and head to the Quicken Loans National at TPC Potomac in two weeks, his lone start ahead of the British Open at Carnoustie. He’ll be back across the pond in late September, for sure, leading the American squad alongside Stricker and Furyk.
He didn’t come close to a run at the national championship, but the question that needs to be answered over the next three months is whether or not he’s good enough to represent the nation as a Ryder Cup playing vice captain.
“I think he’ll probably have to show Jim some more from here on out,” Stricker said. “Have a few good tournaments yet and maybe get in the top 20-25 of the points list to be considered. I think he’s got to get his putting straightened out a little bit. From what I understand, he didn’t make any putts (this week) either. If he does those things, he’s got a legitimate shot at being there as a player.”
Said Furyk: “I don’t know. It’s hard to quantify. I really like what I’ve seen from him and his game. He really hasn’t played that many events, and when he has played he’s looked solid. He’s looked close.”
Woods’ Ryder Cup roster prospects are perfectly in sync with the state of his game coming off another disappointing major finish. It’s great to have him back. It’s exciting to see the very real potential.
Everyone just wants to see a little more. Gwk