- Tiger Woods said his goal this week was to not make any "Others." He made three on Thursday, and in the process turned a decent round into an eight-over 78.
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Tiger Woods may be the best golfer in history at turning a 78 into a 72, through some proprietary formula of ingenuity, skill, patience, mental toughness, course management and magic.
On the first day of the U.S. Open, he should have shot 72 but he shot an eight-over 78. Shinnecock Hills was like a cranky toddler all day long, making everything difficult just on general principle. The wind and the pin placements destroyed a lot of rounds Thursday. Woods destroyed his own.
He arrived here knowing he would make bogeys, but determined not to make anything worse: the double- and triple-bogeys that can end a U.S. Open dream. “Others,” he called them: “My game plan was not to make any 'Others.' I made three of them.”
The first came on the very first hole. Woods was in the fairway, then misjudged the wind on his second shot and hit it over the green. What followed was a flop shot that the wind swatted down, Rudy Gobert–style, and then an awful putt that came back to him like stampless mail, and then three more putts, and there was his 7.
Woods bogeyed the next, but he knew if he went even par the rest of the way, he could get back in the hunt. He had done just that when he arrived at No. 13, where he hit one putt scared, blocked two more, and turned a 4 into a 6 with a four-putt double-bogey. On the next hole, he gave a nice wave after a ball found the hole from the fairway. Alas, the ball was not his—Dean Burmester had holed out on the adjacent 18th hole. Woods was busy putting his tee shot in the right rough then being too aggressive with his approach. When all was said and done, it was another double-bogey. His third Other.
Woods answered reporters’ questions for three minutes afterward. That won’t earn him a Peabody Award, but it did illustrate, once again, that the standards for Tiger are different than for every other golfer. Phil Mickelson shot 78 and blew off reporters. Rory McIlroy shot 80 and vanished, though sadly for him, he has to come back Friday. If Tiger had ducked the media, it would have been a bigger story, at least for the day, because he is Tiger and that’s just how this works.
He seems fine with that now. He didn’t even seem to mind talking about the 78; he was just annoyed he shot it. Woods, like many great athletes, can sometimes sound like he is in denial about his failures. He will hit a 4-iron into the next zip code and say the wind shifted, or he will miss a putt and blame the grain, or he will say he is close to playing really well even though nobody else can see it. In those moments, it is wise to think of him like a basketball player who misses 10 straight shots and expects to drain the next one. Sometimes, part of being great is believing you are great even when you are not.
But when Woods says “I drove it pretty darn good for most of the day” and “It’s frustrating because I’m hitting it well,” as he did after the round, that’s not denial. That’s the truth. He played from tee to green as well as just about anybody on the course. He has just putted really poorly lately, and he did so again Thursday.
Woods is a golf geek of the highest order, and he confirmed this again Thursday when he reminded himself, in the middle of his round, of a tournament that was played here when he was 10 years old. Lanny Wadkins opened with a 74 and as Woods said, “almost pulled himself into a playoff in ’86 in the mid 60s on Sunday.” Wadkins shot 65 that day and finished two strokes behind Raymond Floyd. It was 32 years ago. Oddly, I did not hear Dustin Johnson mention this.
Speaking of Johnson: He and Justin Thomas joined Woods in one of those glamour threesomes that are all the rage lately. The idea is that if you put three stars together, the galleries will be so dense that nobody can see the players. Anyway, Johnson shot a 69 to take a share of the lead, and he served, at once, as both a reminder of Woods’s challenge now and of his greatness in the past.
So much of what was once said about Tiger could now be said of Johnson. He is the kind of athlete you never used to see on Tour. He is impossibly long relative to his peers. His best is probably better than anybody else’s best.
And yet, of course, Johnson is no Tiger Woods. He turns 34 next week and has won one major. He doesn’t close every time like Tiger once did, he doesn’t blow away the field like Tiger once did. This is not a knock on Johnson—just confirmation that there is only one Tiger Woods. Now the 2018 Woods needs to draw inspiration from the 1986 Lanny Wadkins to catch up to the 2018 Dustin Johnson.