PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Tiger Woods slammed his club, kicked at the sand and cursed at himself as several shots from the tee and bunker went awry on the back nine at Pebble Beach.
Thanks to some clutch putting and sound strategy, Woods managed to prevent any of those mistakes from turning into bogeys and finished under par in a round at the U.S. Open for the first time in seven years. Woods finished with 11 straight pars for a 1-under 70 on Thursday, leaving him five shots behind leader Justin Rose.
“It’s typical Pebble Beach where the first seven holes you can get it going, and then after that you’re kind of fighting and kind of hanging on,” Woods said. “I kind of proved that today. I had it going early and had to fight off through the middle part of the round and hung in there with pars. Very pleased to shoot under par today.”
Woods had his only birdies on the front nine, connecting on the fourth, sixth and seventh holes where the course is easier than it is on the back nine. What prevented this from being better was the one hole Woods couldn’t save himself on.
Caught between clubs at the par-3 fifth, hit a 6-iron way left. The ball bounced on the cart path and went even farther away from the hole. He pitched it back through the green, chipped past the pin and missed a 10-footer for bogey.
“A terrible tee shot,” he said. “I was in between clubs. I wasn’t committed to hit a 6-iron. I know from playing the practice rounds that I probably should hit 7 because I can hit it 15 yards short of the green, and there’s a little shelf there that will funnel the ball onto the front part of the green.
“And I hit a terrible shot, but the second shot was good. But the mistake was the third shot, and I hit it above the hole. And a simple little pitch shot, if I leave it 10 feet below the hole, easy shot, move on with the bogey.”
Woods erased that mistake with two straight birdies and then avoided any more bogeys by making sure any errant shots the rest of the way were left below the hole where the putts are much easier to convert.
Woods missed after shot far to the right on 13, dropping his club and cursing in frustration but managed to hit his third shot from short of the green to 5 feet and made par.
Then on the par-5 14th, Woods hit his second shot into the greenside bunker. His chip went into the rough on the other side, leading him to slam his club and kick the sand. He then he chipped it 30 feet past the hole but made that putt as well, leading to his biggest fist pump of the day.
Woods then made par on the final two holes after ending up in the bunker to complete a round that included 11 one putts.
“It’s just fighting it out and grinding it out,” Woods said. “But I still say that it’s important to miss the ball in the correct spots. And, granted, I made a few putts today, but they were all uphill. Hitting the ball in the correct spots, if I happened to not feel comfortable with a number, dump the ball 30, 40 feet, move on about my business.”
Woods is a three-time winner at the U.S. Open. He won by a record 15 shots here in 2000, again two years later at Bethpage Black and then in a 19-hole playoff against Rocco Mediate in 2008 at Torrey Pines.
He had top 10 finishes the next two years, including a tie for fourth at Pebble Beach in 2010, but has had little success at this tournament of late. Since shooting an opening-round 69 in 2012 at Olympic Club, Woods had failed to break par in 11 straight rounds heading into this year’s tournament.
He missed three of the past five U.S. Opens with injuries and missed the cut the last two times he played in 2015 and ‘18.
But after ending a more than decade-long drought by winning his 15th career major at the Masters earlier this year, Woods hopes to get back in contention at a course he has enjoyed success at in the past.
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