Woods enters U.S. Open coming off a victory
As the 112th U.S. Open approaches, many of golf's leading men are distracted.
For Phil Mickelson, it's cell phones. For Bubba Watson, it's diapers. For defending champion Rory McIlroy, it's love. For Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, it's the onset of another dreaded major.
Only Tiger Woods, it seems, enters in his happy place. With the Open teeing off Thursday at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, the 14-time major champion looks primed to break his four-year drought and resume his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' hallowed mark of 18 majors.
|When » Thursday-Sunday|
|Where » Olympic Club,|
|TV » ESPN/NBC|
In a victory earlier this month in the Memorial, Woods separated himself with a spectacular holed flop shot and a closing birdie. Hitting more greens than any player in the field, Woods showed the most control of his swing since taking on Sean Foley as his coach nearly two years ago.
"I hit the ball as good as I have in years," Woods said after the Memorial. "[At Olympic] you can look at the history of the guys who were in contention or who ended up winning. All were wonderful drivers of the golf ball and good, solid iron players. That's what it's going to take at Olympic, more so than most U.S. Open sites."
At the Memorial, set up at 7,366 yards, Woods hit few drivers, relying on his 3-wood stinger shot to keep the ball low. With Olympic playing at 7,170 yards over tight, canted fairways, expect Woods to again employ his 3-wood. He ranks No. 1 on the PGA Tour in total driving.
"There's a big premium on driving the golf ball and shaping it," Woods told reporters Tuesday. "The speed of these fairways are picking up, it's going to be a great test."
Another positive for Woods: This will be a home game of sorts. He has captured two of his three U.S. Open titles in his home state. As a student at Stanford, Woods often made the 30-mile trip up I-280 to play Olympic or one of the other magnificent courses that surround Lake Merced.
"I'm excited about this course," Woods said. "It's good to be back."
Since he last won a major, the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Woods has been here before, winning major tuneups, then failing when it mattered most. In 2009, Woods astonishingly won each lead-in event but came up short in all four majors. Prior to this year's Masters, he captured the Arnold Palmer Invitational but followed with a tie for 40th at the Masters, losing so much control of his swing and his composure that he drop-kicked his 9-iron on the 16th tee. Woods says this time feels different.
"[At Augusta] I did not feel comfortable hitting the ball up. And I got back into a lot of my old patterns," Woods said. "But at [the Memorial] I had compression, hitting the ball high and hitting it long."
If Woods is indeed back, Mickelson and Watson will get a first-hand look on Thursday and Friday. They are paired together in an unusual superstar threesome.
"I don't think we'll talk about a lot," Woods said. "This is a major championship."