The prevailing wisdom entering the 2018 U.S. Open was that in order for Tiger Woods to be a factor, he had to drive the ball better than he has during this latest comeback.
Woods entered the week 188th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy at 54.66 percent, but 16th in scoring average (70.035).
So it was a major red flag when Woods hit his first four fairways during Thursday’s opening round but had yet to hit a green in regulation. He was 4 over at that point, and several facets of Woods’ game would let him down during an 8-over par round of 78 at Shinnecock Hills, which chewed up and spit out many of the game’s brightest stars Thursday.
“We thought there were probably close to seven to nine birdieable holes out there,” Woods said. “Now, with the wind blowing, that changed dramatically. And also where they put some of these pins, you can’t get to them.”
Woods played in the afternoon wave, so he was well aware of the carnage out on the course ahead of him as only two players from the morning finish under par.
“It was pretty evident nobody was making any birdies in the morning,” he said. “Lots and lots of bogies and higher, and ‘others.’ My game plan was not to make any ‘others’ and make birdies. Didn’t do very well there.”
Woods has gotten off to notoriously slow starts throughout 2018, and Thursday was no different. He hit the opening green with his approach shot, but the ball didn’t hold and rolled off the back. Woods failed to get the ball to the putting surface with his next two attempts — one chip and one putt — and finally tapped in for triple bogey.
Woods bogeyed No. 2 and was 4 over before he could really get into his round.
An inauspicious start, to say the least, but Woods has made a habit of grinding his way out of early deficits this year.
It appeared Thursday might continue that trend as he went even-par over his next 10 holes and arrived at the par-4 13th hole at 4 over — well within striking distance of the leaders who were hovering just under par.
Woods reached the green in regulation, but was 40 feet from the hole and left his birdie putt six feet short. He then pushed his par putt right, his bogey putt right coming back the other way and stumbled away with a double bogey that dropped him to 6 over.
That brought Woods to the toughest hole on the course Thursday, and he pushed his 3-wood way right off the tee into the fescue on No. 14. His second shot from an uphill lie hooked left into the gallery. Woods hacked out short of the green, chipped to 10 feet and two-putted from there for double bogey.
Ever the grinder, Woods did steady the ship enough to par each of his final four holes and card a 5-over 40 on the grueling back nine. At nine shots off the lead, Woods will have to rebound during the morning wave on Friday to have any shot of making the cut.
–Field Level Media