Tiger Woods dealt a reality check in Round 1 of U.S. Open


SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The argument was presented Wednesday night on Golf Channel and given some serious, spirited consideration by analysts and other various media members.

Which would make for the more compelling storyline – Tiger Woods winning the 2018 U.S. Open to shock the sports world with major No. 15, or Phil Mickelson rocking the golf world by getting over the runner-up hump to cap the career grand slam?

Less than 24 hours later, around 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon, Mickelson was in with a 7-over 77 and Woods made triple bogey to begin his round at Shinnecock Hills.

Cruel reality checks are the USGA’s bread and butter.

“It’s tough out there,” Woods said. “But, I mean, I shouldn’t make two doubles and a triple and a four-putt.”

The putter was Woods’ biggest concern entering a relatively promising week, but mistakes were made throughout the bag during an 8-over 78 that has him T-102 after a wild and windy Round 1 .

Woods’ first U.S. Open appearance since 2015 began with another first-tee frenzy. The Long Island fans were so loud when Woods prepared to hit that it was impossible to hear how he was introduced by the starter, who had a microphone.

He shaped an iron shot to the right side of the fairway and that’s exactly when the fun stopped and the excruciating grind began.

Woods flew his approach way over the green, hit what he described as a “really good flop shot” that ended up well short of the green and needed four more shots from there to tidy up. He was the only player in the field to make worse than double bogey on the manageable par-4 opener and drew a near-simultaneous gasp from the witnesses.

Playing partners Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas each saved par, but even they appeared stunned by what had just transpired. The usually-friendly threesome barely said a word as they stood on the second tee, eying down the 252-yard beast of a par-3 with the knowledge that things were only going to get tougher from there.

Woods actually righted the ship after a bogey at No. 2 and played the next eight holes at 1 under. The work was undone with a bogey at the par-3 11th and back-to-back double bogeys at 13 and 14. The latter sent him into the deep fescue right of the fairway, at which point it was difficult not to think back on his struggles from the equally-gnarly fescue at Chambers Bay.

The resulting 78 was Woods’ highest score in competition since the first round of that 2015 U.S. Open, but this was different.

Woods shooting 80 in Round 1 at Chambers Bay felt like the end.

In many ways this is still a new beginning, something he continues to hammer home nearly every tournament by expressing his gratitude for health and the opportunity to play again. And when you see some of the shots he hits on a weekly basis and remember he came up one stroke shy of a playoff at the Valspar, there’s no reason to force a pessimistic view.

There were legitimately good pieces. He hit 9 of 14 fairways, better than his season average, and he was sixth in the field in average driving distance. He just made some horrible mistakes, like a four-putt at 13 that sent him back to the bottom half of the field.

It didn’t help that current World No. 1 Dustin Johnson played lights out with a 1-under 69 to take a share of the lead entering Round 1. It made Woods’ mistakes look that much more egregious on a day when 29 players failed to break 80.

“Shoot something in the 60s tomorrow and I’ll be just fine,” Woods said. “I just think today was the toughest day we’ll have all week.”

Whether or not it was Woods’ toughest day remains to be seen. That’s the reality of a course like Shinnecock Hills, which can punish players at any time and likely took the 42-year-old out of contention Thursday.

Would have been a great story, though.

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