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Curtis Strange's assignment: Follow Tiger Woods at U.S. Open

Tiger Woods on the course during a practice

Tiger Woods on the course during a practice round ahead of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton on Tuesday. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Curtis Strange has seen and done a lot in his golf and television careers, including winning the 1988 and ’89 U.S. Opens. But on Thursday he is looking forward to something new.

The Fox analyst/reporter will follow Tiger Woods’ group around Shinnecock Hills for the first round of the 118th U.S. Open.

“I can’t wait,” Strange said on Tuesday. “I’ve never been in Tiger’s viewpoint, walking and working. When I was at ABC, I was in the booth all the time. Being out there watching in the arena with him, I look forward to it. What a group.”

Woods will join Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas in a power threesome. But Strange said there is a star in that trio brighter than the others — and brighter than anyone else in the field.

“There’s a reason why there’s a buzz here this week — one guy,” Strange said of Woods. “We’ve seen it all year long. TV ratings have been doubled, and tripled at Tampa [for the Valspar]. The fans, the excitement.

“God bless all these other guys, but Tiger is moving the needle. That’s why we’re all hoping he does well, from a TV standpoint. Hey, it makes my job more exciting . . . No disrespect to Phil [Mickelson], but Tiger leads the charge here, and the rest of them are wonderful role players in this excitement.”

Someone asked Strange about Woods seeming to soften his interactions with fellow pros late in his career, compared to a “lone wolf” stage in his prime. Has he become a different person, 10 years after his last major victory?

“Oh, I think he’s the same person,” Strange said. “I think he’s trying a little bit and he’s appreciating this opportunity. I’ve heard him talk like that, which is fantastic, and I think part of that is not only enjoying the golf but also enjoying the people and his colleagues as well. We’re all pretty good guys.

“But I don’t think you change your stripes. We all have a certain makeup. It’s hard to change. I think if he starts really playing well again, the old competitive Tiger will come out . . . To me those that really separate themselves, not only physically but mentally as well, they’re lone wolves They’re outliers.

“You think of all these great superstars in any sport, I don’t think they’re social butterflies, are they?”

Strange did mention a co-star for the Open, and it was not Mickelson or Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy.

“A big part of the excitement is Shinnecock,” he said, adding that Fox held a staff meeting on Tuesday at which everyone was reminded to “let Shinnecock be the star as well as the players. That’s easy for us to do.”

Two of Fox’s previous three Opens were at relatively unfamiliar courses in Chambers Bay and Erin Hills.

Strange played in the 1986 and ’95 Opens at Shinnecock, and said some things have changed, and others have not.

“These runoffs are very difficult,” he said. “You have to play a more conservative type game. Just get it in the middle of the green . . . I played here twice, and you forget the undulation of the greens. My gosh.

“It will be interesting to see how difficult the up-and-ins are from off the green and kind of keeping it in your mind that it was rough before. I think the rough was easier. I really do.”

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