On Saturday, 10 years will have passed since Tiger Woods won his 14th — and, to date, final — major championship. It took 19 holes on a Monday, but Woods defeated his unlikely challenger Rocco Mediate to win his third US Open title at Torrey Pines outside of San Diego.
Woods’ 72nd-hole putt to secure a playoff spot against the Pennsylvania native will go down as one of the great, enduring moments in major golf history. However, a lot has changed in the decade since Woods won the national championship at a course he has dominated throughout his competitive golf life. He lost his perfect major record when he gave up his first 54-hole lead in a major to Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship. He cheated on his wife, and it was suddenly and embarrassingly strewn across media for the world to see. He lost his game, then he found it again. Then he lost his back, requiring four surgeries and months spent wondering if he’d ever play meaningful golf again. He had a very public DUI charge, and he’s dealt with multiple addictions.
And now, here he is, back at Shinnecock Hills for the first time in 14 years, vying for an unlikely 15th major championship. Can Woods defy history and hoist another US Open trophy?
Some of the evidence from his 2018 comeback suggests yes. His approach play has been peerless this year, and he ranks inside the top 25 on the PGA Tour in proximity to the hole. His iron play has rarely been better. Woods’ short game has returned after a bout with the chipping yips, and it’s among the best in the world.
Woods nearly won the Valspar Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. He was a fringe contender at The Players, posting a high finish. He held the lead briefly at the Memorial with an electrifying Saturday before falling back to the pack.
What has held Woods back from winning has been his driving and his putting, though not typically at the same time. At Bay Hill, Woods pulled a drive on the 70th hole out of bounds, stifling his chances to win Mr. Palmer’s event for a ninth time. At Jack’s place, Woods pumped several drives out of bounds, leading to monentum-killing penalty strokes.
At the Wells Fargo Championship, The Players and Memorial, Woods struggled with short-range putts and lining up his stroke with the speed of the greens.
Woods hasn’t been able to string together four rounds good enough to win an 80th PGA Tour event, much less a major. However, he could do it here. Woods handles difficult conditions as well as any golfer in the history of the game. He’s thinks his way around the golf course in the same way Jack Nicklaus did, and Jordan Spieth does. He has all of the shots, but he has to minimize the damage from the poor ones. Bad drives need to find playable lies. Missed putts need to leave makeable ones to clean up. The best thing you can say about Tiger heading into Shinnecock is that, even at age 42, he can still launch it. He’s 25th in driving distance, compromised back and all. That’s not nearly enough to put money on him at +1600 on Tiger according to this 2018 US Open Betting article, especially not with the way he’s been putting and his historical lack of success at the course.
Tiger Woods can win a major championship again, and that seemed unthinkable just months ago. Perhaps the most important thing for Woods to win the US Open this week — besides driving, of course — is for him to think he can win another major. That will go a long way in deciding his fate in this championship.