This is not a good thing for everybody else in golf harboring the notion of winning the upcoming U.S. Open that begins at Shinnecock Hills in New York a week from Thursday.
Tiger did say he was very excited after finishing third at The Memorial Tournament. He also said he hit the ball very well this week.
But he did not say he was close.
Close is where he has been trying to convince all of us he has been most of this year while he has been spraying tee shots from Manhattan Beach to Orlando.
The fact was, he wasnt close. He entered The Memorial ranked 161st in driving accuracy. And that wildness was the primary reason he hadnt won a stroke play event this season. Last week at Muirfield Village he hit 78.6 percent of his fairways and tied for 21st in driving accuracy. On many holes he chose irons or 3-woods off the tee. But he didnt give up much, winding up fourth in driving distance for the event.
Im playing well, Woods said. Thats it, Im playing better. This week was certainly another step in the right direction.
He didnt say he was close. He didnt have to. He knows hes close. He has moved past trying to convince all of us. And thats why this will be bad news for everybody else at Shinnecock Hills.
The course there will be set up at less than 7,000 yards. Most of the best long hitters -Woods, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh et al. - will pull the driver out of the bag no more than four or five times a round.
And thats why The Memorial, won impressively by Els, was such an important tune-up for Woods, whose major drought has reached seven.
Generally, thats what you do in U.S. Opens, Woods said. You usually hit 2-irons and 3-woods. You rarely hit a bunch of drivers.
The smart money at Shinnecock will be on Mickelson, who got the gorilla off his back by winning his first major at the Masters in April, and Els. Els ran second at Augusta and dusted everybody at Muirfield Village with a pair of hand-crafted 66s on the weekend.
Right now, said Els, who jumped past Singh into second place on the official World Golf Rankings, I feel like the best player.
And its hard to argue with The Big Easy.
Its just when youve spent the better part of the last 10 years watching Woods play golf for a living, you get a certain feel for his game, his rhythms and his moods.
Back in the '90s it was trouble for everybody else when he stopped talking about his A game vs. his B game. And thats what it felt like Sunday when he stopped trying to force everybody into thinking he was close.
Golf is not a game where you can force anything. Woods knows this better than most. And its why it was so difficult for him when he got into a long cycle where his driving accuracy deserted him.
In short, it appears Woods may actually be close, especially now that he has stopped using that word.
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