Jun 13, 2018: Ten years ago, Tiger Woods was preparing to play in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California … with a broken left leg and damaged ACL in his knee.
Fighting through pain, he recorded one of the most memorable victories in major championship history. Woods birdied the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate, then edged him the next day in a 19-hole playoff with a two-putt par on the first hole of sudden death.
“I still don’t know how I did it,” Woods said.
Shortly after the win, he underwent reconstructive surgery on the knee.
Now 42, Woods will make his 20th U.S Open start on Thursday at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island. Three of his 14 major crowns have come in America’s national championship. In addition to winning at Torrey Pines, Woods prevailed in 2000 by a tournament-record 15 strokes at Pebble Beach Golf Links. He also won in 2002 at Bethpage Black in New York.
On Thursday, Woods will tee it up in a U.S. Open for the first time since 2015 at Chambers Bay.
“I missed playing,” he said Tuesday. “It’s our nation’s title. It has meant so much to me and my career.”
Last June, Woods was recovering from his fourth back surgery.
“I was just given the okay to start walking again, start moving around,” said Woods. “I hadn’t been cleared to start lifting (weights) yet. And so it was just about my standard of life. Forget golf. Can I actually start participating in my kids’ lives again? That’s something that I missed for a few years, and that was the main goal of it.”
Woods returns to Shinnecock for the third time. He played as an amateur in 1995, withdrawing on Saturday due to a wrist injury, and tied for 17th in 1995.
Two weeks ago, Woods played two practice rounds to reacquaint himself with the course. He played nine holes last Sunday with Jordan Spieth, nine holes on Monday with Steve Stricker, and nine holes on Tuesday with Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau.
“It has changed a lot,” Woods said. “It’s a lot longer. The fairways seem twice as wide. It’s a very different test and very different feel. So many of the trees are gone.”
There are also more options around the greens.
“When I played here before, there was four- to six-inch rough right around the greens,” he said. “Now balls run off much further. We’ve got so many different shots that we can play.”
The putting surfaces aren’t up to championship speed yet, but should be Thursday.
“They’re right where they want them,” Woods said of the USGA. “And as the golf course dries out, this golf course is going to be another great U.S. Open test.”
It marks the 10th start of the year for Woods, who is coming off a tie for 23rd at the Memorial Tournament. He has posted four top 12 showings and has finished 23rd or higher six times.
“Golf is always frustrating,” said Woods. “There’s always something that isn’t quite right, and that’s where we, as players, have to make adjustments. Tournaments I’ve played in this year, there’s always something. Hopefully, this is one of those weeks where I put it all together and even it out. We’ll see what happens.”
Woods’ ball-striking was superb at the Memorial, especially on the weekend. However, he struggled on the greens, three-putting five times and used 118 for the week.
“I just didn’t feel comfortable over the ball,” he said. “I couldn’t see my lines. And those greens were quick. I didn’t hit many good putts.”
Since then, Woods has spent considerable time sharpening his short game.
“I worked on it pretty hard this past week,” said Woods. “Just had to hit a lot of putts, just put in the legwork.”
He brought two putters, the one he’ll use in the tournament, and one to practice with, to Shinnecock.
“When I’m home, I have a couple practice putters, and I’ve always been one that likes the heel shafted putter,” Woods said. “I like feeling the toe move. I love feeling the release of it.
“What I’ve basically done my entire career is putt with those putters at home a lot. And then I like to feel that in my fingers when I grab my other putter, the one you see me putt with for most of those years, and have that same swing.”
Woods grew up putting on Poa Annua greens in Southern California, the same type of grass used at Shinnecock.
“Poa gets bumpy, and it requires a lot of patience,” he said. “A lot of times you can hit great putts on poa and it doesn’t go in. The key is to hit putts solid.”
As is usually the case at the U.S. Open, pars will be golden.
“A U.S. Open is about wedging it,” said Woods. “You can spray it a little bit here and there, but you’ve got to be able to get it up and down from 100 yards. We’re all going to face it.”
While Woods has contended several times this year, he would like to finish the job. A winner of 79 PGA Tour titles and 14 majors, he relished being in the hunt again.
“I loved how it felt being there,” he said. “On that Sunday at Valspar, I was right there with a chance. Honestly, I felt very calm. It felt very familiar. But I would like to get myself there more times.”
Woods is staying on his boat “Privacy” about 30 minutes from the course for comfort and to avoid traffic.
“Staying on the dinghy definitely helps,” he said. “It’s been kind of nice to get away from the tournament scene and enjoy it.”
This is the fifth U.S. Open at Shinnecock, founded in 1891 and the oldest incorporated golf club in country. It hosted the second U.S. Open in 1896, won by James Foulis, and again in 1986 (Raymond Floyd), 1995 (Corey Pavin) and 2004 (Retief Goosen).
Woods will play the first two rounds with Johnson and Justin Thomas. They start on the first tee Thursday at 1:47 p.m. ET and on the 10th tee Friday at 8:02 a.m. ET.