- Tiger Woods was red-hot on the back-nine of major championship Sunday. Unfortunately his play on the front nine took the reigning Masters champ out of contention.
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Pebble Beach gives you seven holes to do your damage and they come at the start of your round. Making birdies on the benign opening stretch is a prerequisite to shooting a great score here. You’ll have wedges or short irons into the first, third, fifth and seven holes, and the sixth is a par 5 only in name, easily reachable even by shorter hitters. The next 11 holes are an exercise in damage control. Grind out pars, steal a birdie when you get the chance, and just get it into the house. That’s the playbook on how to play Pebble Beach.
Tiger Woods did the exact opposite on Sunday.
He played the opening seven holes in three–over and the rest in five–under, adding up to an unconventional yet remarkable 69. He finished the U.S. Open at –2, a score that would have won five of the last 11 U.S. Opens. But this is not one of those U.S. Opens, and Woods was a full 11 shots off the lead when he completed his round.
“I wish I would have known [what jumpstarted the day] because I would have turned it around a little earlier than that,” Woods said. “Again, got off to another crappy start.”
Crappy and concerning. Woods looked more likely to withdraw than shoot something in the 60s when he walked gingerly off the sixth green. He had just made a messy bogey, his fourth in six holes. He was four–over and moving in slow motion. Not injured—you don’t play the final 11 holes at Pebble Beach in six–under if you’re injured—but certainly uncomfortable. He picked up his tees slowly, so as to protect his infamous back. He used breaks in the action as chances to stretch his back and neck, which was covered in medical tape.
Woods spoke all week about how the chilly Carmel air does his 43-year-old body no favors, how he only wishes it were 20 degrees warmer this week. He’s at his best in warm, humid climates that loosen his joints. At this point in his career, he’d much rather sweat through a half-dozen shirts—remember Bellerive?—than have to wear three layers…which is what he did on Sunday (a red long sleeve under a mock turtleneck under a vest, for those keeping score. It was below 60 on Sunday, and the breeze off Stillwater Cove made it feel significantly cooler than the thermometer said.
That did him no favors. Neither did his early-round distance control struggles. Whether it was the weather or his body or a softer golf course than he expected, Woods came up a full club short on his approaches on four of the first six holes and wasn’t able to get up and down once. At one point he was four–over for the tournament and had dropped outside the top 50; after birdieing the 18th and signing his card, he was hovering around 20th. It was his sixth birdie of the day—along with 18, he converted at 7, 8, 13, 14 and 16.
“Just because I got off to a bad start doesn't mean it's over. Keep grinding, keep playing. And I was able to turn my round around today as well as yesterday.”
Saturday’s round was the same story, if a bit less extreme. He was two–over through three and made five birdies to play the rest of the round in two–under. That round assured there would be no Sunday drama this time at Pebble Beach, the site of his epic 15-shot triumph in 2000.
When Woods will tee it up again is anyone’s guess. It’s certainly possible that it won’t be until the Open Championship at Royal Portrush, which begins July 18. He didn’t play a tournament between winning the Masters and the next major, the PGA Championship, and joked that the only "playing" he’ll be doing before Portrush will be at home.
The immediate plan? Use the free afternoon to celebrate Father’s Day.
“I'm going to take a little bit of time off and enjoy some family time.”