'At least I kicked Rickie Fowler's butt' - Tiger Woods reacts to his worst ever US Open score
This was Tiger Woods's third round in the 80s this year, but for the 14-time major champion this was surely the most humiliating. His worst score in 20 years of playing the US Open unfolded on prime-time viewing on US television. In truth, it should have been broadcast after the watershed.
It was hard to watch, impossible not to think back to what Woods once was. This was the 15th anniversary of his iconic15-stroke US Open victory at Pebble Beach was. And there he was 15 shots behind the leaders, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson. Furthermore, for yet more symmetry, he was being beaten by a 15-year-old, Cole Hammer, who shot a 77.
In the 156-man field only two players fared more poorly. One of these was his playing partner Rickie Fowler, the Players champion whose 81 was a huge shock. In contrast, Woods’s 10-over shambles was really not that surprising. Not for all of us who saw him shoot 85 at the Memorial two weeks ago and have charted his downfall to 195 in the world rankings in an horrific 2015.
To think, Woods had only one round in the 80s in more than 110 rounds from 1996 to 2014. He has racked up a hat-trick in his last 15 rounds.
Credit to Woods he faced up to the media afterwards and made a joke. “The bright side is I kicked Rickie’s butt today,” he said, before turning solemn. “It was a tough day. I just couldn't get it turned around today. I’m trying as hard as I can but for some reason i just can’t get consistency. But I’ll keep working, keep grinding.”
It began, as every first round has in this calamitous season, with a bogey on the first. Thereafter there were seven more bogeys and a triple-bogey. And although that seven on the par-four 14th was utterly wretched - three swipes in a bunker before a three-putt - it was actually what occurred during the par on the eighth which stood out in this catalogue of catastrophe.
In the knee-high rough on the right, Woods chopped down and released his club wildly on impact. As his ball squirted over to the rough on the other side of the fairway, the iron flew over his shoulder and travelled a good 20 yards. Woods watched it spiralling and like everyone could not believe what he was witnessing. He was lucky to find his club, never mind the ball.
As it was a par five, Woods was able to chop out on to the green and save his par. There were other moments of the old magic not least when he played a miraculous recover from a “fried egg” of a lie in a green side bunker on the 10th. Yet these merely acted as cruel flashbacks to the time when Woods was King and everyone looked on in awe.
He continues to command the spotlight, but now in the style a court jester with all the craziness, but none of the jokes. In short, Woods appears lost. The swing changes he has made and is still making under Chris Como are clearly not working and are leaving Woods confused. His work ethic is commendable but goodness knows how he will get out of this mess. On the par-five 18th, after picking up his one birdie of the day at the 16th to give himself the opportunity to break 80, Woods cold topped a three-wood from the middle of the fairway into the deepest bunker in US Open history. It was apt. He is in a hole.
If anything, the halfway cut will be a blessed mercy. It would do the 39-year-old no good whatsoever to play two more rounds here at this layout which magnifies the slightest imperfections. Playing alongside Woods and Fowler was the former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, who shot a 77. This garlanded group were a combined 28-over. “We are all just happy to be upright and alive,” Fowler said.
It was as brutal as it was baffling. No doubt this stunning links-style course was tougher in the afternoon, that it had been early on when Stenson and Johnson took advantage of the softer conditions to steal a one-shot lead over the young American Patrick Reed.
But there were still players scoring in the later wave. Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, in the group ahead of Woods, both shot 68 and are ominously poised. Also on two-under is the Scot Marc Warren, although the most impressive performance in tartan came from Colin Montgomerie, the 51-year-old who shot a 69 playing in his first US Open in seven years.
Who would have thought the veteran would be three ahead of Rory McIlroy, the world No 1? In truth, Chambers Bay is that sort of course. Yet McIlroy declared himself “disappointed”. “The conditions were benign and I missed the opportunity to go low like Dustin and Henrik,” McIlroy said. The suspicion must be that the USGA will ensure it does not play quite so straightforwardly again.
At least the awful greens help the course defend itself. Brown and blotchy they apparently putt better than they look, which is a good job as if they did putt exactly as they look it would be more akin to pinball than golf. As it is, they are not befitting of either a major or a venue as stunning as this - as Sergio Garcia pointed out on Twitter. “A championship of the calibre of the US Open deserves better quality greens than we have this week,” the Spaniard wrote after a 70.
The putting surfaces were the least of Woods’s problems and in the broadcasting booth Tom Weiskopf encapsulated what many were thinking. "I hate to watch this,’ Weiskopf said. “I’m an avid fan. When you're at the top of Everest and now you're in a coal mine….”