On a day when a soft Winged Foot surrendered its lowest scores ever in a U.S. Open, Tiger Woods let his round slip away late, culminating with a ghastly double bogey at 18.
Woods' 3-over 73 has him in a tie for 71st, eight strokes behind leader Justin Thomas following a mercurial round which included five birdies, six bogeys and the closing 6.
That 6 ended a day in which Woods bounced back constantly from adversity. He suffered early bogeys at Nos. 4 and 5, but ran off three birdies from the ninth through 11th, making long putts that evoked romantic visions of eight 2008 at Torrey or last year at Augusta. Woods had jumped from a tie for 93rd to a tie for sixth.
But then the putter cooled off. A lipped-out short putt at 12 left him with a disappointing par. Two more bogeys followed at 13 and 14. Undaunted, Woods bounced back yet again. He clawed his way back to even par with a 60-foot birdie putt on the murderous 498-yard 16th and then bogeyed 17 with a wayward drive behind a tree and a missed short putt.
Steam coming from his ears and his face redder than normal, Woods muttered some comments to himself before teeing off on 18, but the pep talk didn’t work. His tee shot drew too much and landed in thick rough. He made good contact and nearly made it to the false front.
But then 18 at Winged Foot did what it tends to do. Looking every bit of his 44 years, Woods embarrassingly chili-dipped a pitch that rolled back to him down the false front. His next pitch was far better, pin high to 6 feet.
He missed the putt. Balloon meet pin.
“I had a nice little hot run there in the middle part of my round, hit a really good putt at 12, thought it was going to go in and then I lipped it out, and then made two bogeys after that,” Woods recalled dourly. “Seemed like I wasn't getting anything out of my round early on, and it flipped, and unfortunately I just didn't finish off the way I needed to.”
It just goes to show, Winged Foot’s 18th makes fools of us all. It played as the seventh-hardest hole on the course, 0.26 strokes over par for the day.
Meanwhile Woods' stats look almost as bad as Phil Mickelson’s. Woods hit just five out of 14 fairways and just nine greens. Today doesn’t bode well – it looks like much of his season where he’s ranked 145th in strokes gained around the green. And that’s with easy hole locations today. The pins will get tougher, the rough longer, and the greens and fairways will become harder to hit and hold.
Winged Foot may be Woods' kryptonite: In his last four championship rounds at Winged Foot, Woods is a combined 20 over par (73 today, 76-76-MC at the 2006 U.S. Open and a 75 in the final round of the 1997 PGA Championship where he finished 3 over, 14 shots behind winner Davis Love III).
Still, Thursday is just getting to know you. You can’t win it on Thursday, but you can lose it. Woods isn’t out of it by any means, despite Winged Foot treating him like a distant, unlovable relative.
Woods concluded optimistically: “There’s still a lot of golf left to play.”