On Saturday, it will mark 10 years since Tiger Woods pulled off one of the most incredible feats in sports history, defeating Rocco Mediate in an 18-hole playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open while playing on a torn ACL and two stress fractures in his tibia.
That was Woods’ 14th career major victory and his last one to date.
It’s been 10 years and four back surgeries since Woods was the last one standing at a major championship. He’ll try to end both his 10-year major drought and five-year winless streak this week when he tees it up at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southhampton, N.Y.
Woods sports 20-1 odds to win the year’s second major, behind only Dustin Johson, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm.
The 42-year-old has played well since his return to competitive golf, recording four top 12 finishes in nine starts this season. Woods has shown flashes of brilliance in almost every start this year, but he’s been unable to put it all together.
Each time he appears to fix the issue that plagues him, a new one pops up.
He struggled with his driver at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His distance control with his irons was off at the Masters and his putting failed him at the Wells Fargo Invitational and the Memorial. Woods has yet to put it all together for four consecutive rounds.
While winning appears to be on the horizon for Woods, the 2018 U.S. Open likely won’t be where the major drought ends.
The United States Golf Association prides itself on making the U.S. Open the toughest test in golf, and more importantly, the most difficult major. The course will have a punitive setup, using long fescue rough to put an emphasis on the importance of length and accuracy off the tee.
That could be a problem this week for Woods. He ranks 120th in strokes gained off the tee, losing nearly half a shot to the field. He’s made up for it with stellar iron play, ranking fourth in strokes gained approach to the green, but the course’s narrow fairways and dense rough will make it difficult for Woods to create scoring opportunities if he isn’t in the short grass.
Shinnecock Hills will be a brute, as it was in 2004 and 1995. The 7,445-yard, par-70 course only has two par 5s, which will limit Woods’ chances to make birdies, and if he finds himself getting lost off the tee, it might be hard for him to stay in contention or make the cut.
All that being said, Woods has shown he can contend this week.
While his putting was putrid his last time out at the Memorial, it’s a volatile skill that can come back at any moment and a hot putter can help negate some of the issues he could have off the tee.
Woods also has shown the ability to grind during his return, which is a skill that will be a key at the U.S. Open. He was 4-over through seven holes at the Memorial, but bounced back to finish the first round at even par, and shared the lead during the third round Saturday before fading in the final round. Woods will need that fortitude to succeed at Shinnecock Hills. There undoubtedly will be wayward drives and unlucky bounces, but if he’s able to stay locked in then he’ll have a chance to win.
More than anything else, it’s his iron play that will give him a chance to win. The greens at Shinnecock Hills are small, tricky things that will give many of the players fits. As mentioned above, Woods ranks fourth in strokes gained approach so if he’s in the fairway, he should be able to pick up ground on the field with his irons, and couple that with a hot putter and it could be a memorable weekend.
Ten years ago at Torrey Pines, Woods wowed the sports world by winning the toughest major on one leg. Ten years of injuries, mental hurdles and major futility. Woods can end all that this week in Long Island, but he’ll need to finally put it all together to conquer the beast that is Shinnecock Hills.
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