Thursday 23 November 2017

Tiger ready to come out of the Woods

If ever there was a perfect time for Tiger Woods to end his barren run in major championships, next week's US Open could well be it. Nick Potts/PA Wire
If ever there was a perfect time for Tiger Woods to end his barren run in major championships, next week's US Open could well be it. Nick Potts/PA Wire

Phil Casey

If ever there was a perfect time for Tiger Woods to end his barren run in major championships, next week's US Open could well be it.

The last of the world number one's 14 major titles came in the same event in 2008 via a play-off with Rocco Mediate which meant the tournament went into a fifth day on Monday, June 16.

Five years on, Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania hosts the 113th US Open which is scheduled to finish on Sunday, June 16.

A simple coincidence it may be, but there are plenty of other reasons to think Woods will finally take another step closer to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles.

Woods has won four times in 2013, including three of his last five events, and is a collective 52 under par on the PGA Tour this season. He could arguably also have won the Masters if not for the approach to the 15th in the second round at Augusta which bounced off the flag and into the water.

Admittedly that could also have led to his disqualification from the tournament given the subsequent incorrect drop which eventually led to a two-shot penalty, but Woods still finished fourth, four shots outside the play-off eventually won by Adam Scott.

However, as always with statistics, there is another way to look at the numbers. In his last tournament before the US Open, Woods went into the Memorial as a massive favourite at a venue where he has tasted victory five times before.

Instead of chalking up another victory, the 37-year-old barely made the cut at Muirfield Village and then shot the worst nine-hole score of his career (44) en route to his second-worst round (79) as a professional.

Even in the four events he has won, Woods' scoring average on the back nine in the final round is 37, while on the last four holes of those wins he is a combined five over par.

Fans of Woods will point out that he has usually bounced back extremely well after disappointing performances. In 2005, after finishing 53rd at the Players Championship, Woods won the Masters in his next start.

The following year, after shooting consecutive rounds of 76 in the US Open to miss his first cut in a major as a professional following the death of his father, he won the next two majors and finished second in the two after that.

So which Woods will turn up at Merion, a tight venue which will play just 6,996 yards but defends itself with narrow fairways, penal rough and three par-threes over 230 yards and a par-four 18th at 521 yards?

That could well depend on the weather conditions, with a fast, dry course which does not require players to hit driver on many holes playing into Woods' hands, much as it did in the Open Championship at Hoylake in 2006 or more recently at the Players Championship.

"If it plays long, there are certain holes where you have got to get it down there," Woods said.

"If it dries out, at the Players this year I hit a few 3-woods that were going over 300 yards because the conditions were right.

"If we get the same conditions (at Merion) where it dries out and you start running with the slopes, getting the ball to go 300 yards plus with 3-woods, that's ample far to get to the spots you need to get to.

"The middle stretches, if it dries out and it plays firm and fast, it's very similar to what we face in the sandbelt courses. It's sometimes 5-irons off the tees and you have a wedge in. Doesn't mean you are going to make birdie. It's hard to hit some of these fairways even with those clubs.

"If they start tucking these pins and start getting them (the greens) as fast as they want to have them, you will be firing away from the flags even with the sand wedge.

"If you look at the list of champions, they have all been really good shot-makers (Ben Hogan won the US Open at Merion in 1950 and Lee Trevino in 1971). They have all been able to shape the golf ball. I think that's what it lends itself to and you have to be so disciplined to play that course.

"You play to certain spots on the greens. You leave yourself certain putts and you deal with it and you move on. Even the 13th (a 115-yard par three), you are teeing off with a pitching wedge. If they put the pin right, you are not going to be firing at it."

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