SOUTHAMPTON, NEW YORK | The question hanging in the Long Island air as Tiger Woods stood at an interview podium with his hands on his hips early Friday afternoon was what his likely missed cut in the U.S. Open means.
Is it a true measure of where Woods is in his comeback?
Or is it merely the continuation of a flat spot in his play that began at the Masters and, except for a handful of hot rounds, has stretched over his past five starts?
No player likes long, demanding golf courses more than Woods, who built his career conquering such places, but his Shinnecock Hills experience began with a triple bogey at the relatively benign first hole on Thursday and ended with him at 10-over par after rounds of 78-72, a full 14 strokes behind playing partner Dustin Johnson after their two days together.
“Unfortunately, it’s just what I’ve done the last few events,” Woods said. “I just haven’t putted well. If I would have putted like I did the beginning of the year with this ballstriking, that would be ideal. Unfortunately, I just haven’t done that.”
Though Woods hit 20 of 28 fairways over two days, he managed to hit just 16 greens in two rounds, rarely giving himself chances to make birdies because he was too busy trying to avoid another bogey. Play the what-if game for a moment – what if Tiger parred No. 1 both days – and he would be 5 over for the championship.
Of course, it doesn’t work that way.
He didn’t putt well – again – and his four-putt double bogey at No. 13 on Thursday seemed to siphon some spirit from him.
A master at saving shots through his career, Woods instead spent precious strokes with his ragged play at Shinnecock Hills. It was the most un-Woods-like aspect of his two rounds in this U.S. Open.
“He definitely didn’t have it but he didn’t play that poorly,” Justin Thomas, his other playing partner, said. “He just had a couple of bad holes for as hard as it played.
“I don’t think you need me to tell you he’s not pleased but I’m sure he’s closer than the scores show.”
Since a couple of high finishes during the Florida swing in March, Woods entered the U.S. Open having finished T32 at the Masters, T55 at the Wells Fargo Championship, T11 at the Players Championship and T23 at the Memorial Tournament.
When Woods was asked the inevitable question – does he believe he can still peak for major championships – he didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Why didn’t it happen at Shinnecock Hills?
“Have you seen the way I’ve been swinging?” he asked.