Tiger Woods’ pitch looked good as it landed on the cusp of the green, and the ball paused for just a moment, as if deciding which way the day was going to go. Would it keep rolling toward the first hole at Shinnecock Hills, or would wind and momentum and who knows what else push it back down the hill from whence it came?
“I hit it right to the wind,” Woods said after a long first day at the U.S. Open, when he finished an unsightly 8-over-par 78. “I actually hit a really good flop shot. The wind actually knocked it down. It didn’t carry it. And I hit two bad putts on one and two. For most of the day, I didn’t putt well.
“I just didn’t . . . I just didn’t get off to a great start today.”
The ball rolled back down the hill, Woods’ next putt did the same, and he started his day with a triple bogey. He also had two double bogeys and finished nine strokes behind the four leaders tied at 1 under.
By their nature, comebacks don’t come easily, but it seemed to be an especially Sisyphean task for Woods on Thursday. Under bright skies and a humbling wind, Shinnecock did what Shinnecock does: eat up professional golfers at an alarming rate (Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth didn’t do so hot, either).
“It’s frustrating because I hit the ball,’’ Woods said. “I’m hitting it well. In the last, I think, four tournaments, I have not putted well. So if I can putt like I did at the beginning of the year, we’ve got something. I just haven’t done that.”
After bogeying the second hole, Woods settled and finished the front nine at 3-over 38. After a dreadful start, he seemed to be getting in a groove, and he said that because of the difficulty of the course, he thought if he could shoot par the rest of the day, “I’d be just fine. So just keep hanging in there. It can be done. This golf course is kind of setting up for that right now.”
The back nine had other thoughts, however. Woods bogeyed 11 after his shot was claimed by the bunker, and he was all but eaten alive by 13. He missed a 2-foot putt and made double bogey, dropping him to 6 over.
“It was not very good,” he said. “I was worried about running the putt by because it’s downhill on the other side, left it short, blocked the next one, and then blocked it again. Not very good.”
It was the theme of his day. At this rate, Woods will be trying to just make the cut, but though frustrated, he thinks he still can pull it out.
“Shoot something in the 60s tomorrow and I’ll be just fine,” he said. “I think today was the toughest day we’ll have all week.”