Tiger Down But Not Out

By Mercer BaggsJune 15, 2006, 4:00 pm
U.S. OpenMAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Tiger Woods isnt about to panic. At least hes not about to let you see him panic. If Woods has any real concern about missing the cut after opening in 6-over 76 Thursday at the U.S. Open, youd never know it by listening to his post-round comments.
Of all the things that Woods said in his brief, five-minute session with the media, one line was most telling.
Scorecard: Tiger struggled again in Rd. 2
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods found plenty of trouble in his opening 6-over 76.
If I shoot under par the next couple of days, he said, Ill be fine.
Note the word couple. Apparently, Woods has every intention of sticking around for the weekend.
He also added that he was trying to get back to 4 under after shooting 5-over 40 over his first nine holes, but that I did not quite do that, but at least Im still in the ballgame with two (good) rounds.
To do so, however, hes going to have to improve upon just about every aspect of his game. Playing in his first tournament in nine weeks, Woods was terribly erratic with his driver, a bit inconsistent with his irons, and read the greens like a blind man.
According to Woods, the greens were bumpy like brail, but the primary problem was their pace.
Theyve been slow all week, said Woods, who shot what amounted to the field average in round 1. I just didnt make that adjustment faster.
If I would have made a faster adjustment on the greens, I would have been fine.
USGA officials have said that the greens are measuring 12 on the Stimpmeter, just as they did in practice. Woods would agree with half of that assessment: they are at a similar speed to that of the past few days, but they are not that quick.
No, responded Woods when asked if they were playing like a 12. Youre used to playing U.S. Opens with fast greens; these arent. With the pitch on these greens, you have to keep it on the slower side; were just not used to being in the U.S. Open with greens this slow.
Woods needed 33 putts in the first round. Still, statistically, it was his driver that failed him most of all. He hit only three of 14 fairways.
Some of the holes I drove it through the doglegs and on some I just hit bad tee shots, he said. I have to hit the ball in more fairways to be marginally more aggressive (on approach shots) ' marginally.
Marginally, because danger lurks everywhere at Winged Foot. And it found Tiger ' or Tiger ran into it ' over and over again Thursday. He was Marvin Gaye's 'Trouble Man.'
Woods started the day by bogeying his first three holes. He then made a birdie at the par-5 fifth, but gave away three more shots over his next four holes going out. He capped his opening 40 by hitting his tee shot on the par-4 ninth well to the right, and then hooking a 9-iron over some corporate tents into the right grandstand, where he received a free drop on his way to another dropped shot ' nine holes, six bogeys.
Woods shot 40 over his first nine holes at Augusta National in 1997 and went on to win the Masters Tournament with a record total of 18 under par. Birdies on the West Course, however, are not nearly as plentiful. And that year at Augusta, he shot 6-under 30 on his back nine in the first round; this time it was a 1-over 36.
The lowlight of his back nine came when he butchered the par-5 12th. He pulled his tee shot into the left rough, hit a 9-iron out and into the intermediate rough, hit 8-iron from there into a bunker, blasted his next shot over the green, pitched to 8 feet, and two-putted for double bogey.
He is tied for 68th after 18 holes, with the top 60 and those within 10 strokes of the lead qualifying for the final two rounds.
He said that he didnt believe rust was a factor in his poor play, nor did he feel any emotional strain.
No, it wasnt hard at all, he said about playing for the first time since the death of his father on May 3. Ill tell you what; the fans were absolutely incredible cheering me on. I understand the situation where everyone is looking to me to be more emotional. Right now, Im just focused on trying to win the championship.
And there is precedent for him doing so. Twice since World War II have players opened in 76 and gone on to win their respective U.S. Opens: Ben Hogan in 1951 and Jack Fleck in 1955, both on par 70 courses.
When asked if Woods felt like he could be the third such man over the last 55 years to accomplish that feat, he replied, Its been done before, hasnt it?
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