Woods is ready

For­mer U.S. Open win­ner seeks first win in the ma­jor in a decade

The Western Star - - SPORTS - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

Tiger Woods re­turned to the U.S. Open for the first time in three years and hardly any­one no­ticed.

Then again, it was late Sun­day af­ter­noon. Shin­necock Hills was prac­ti­cally empty.

“A bizarre ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Jor­dan Spi­eth, who played nine holes with him.

Such a quiet mo­ment was rare for Woods in his celebrated re­turn fol­low­ing four back surg­eries. A year that be­gan with in­trigue soon gave way to hys­te­ria over an­tic­i­pa­tion of his first vic­tory in nearly five years.

That time has not ar­rived as Woods heads into the sec­ond ma­jor of the year.

“Golf is al­ways frus­trat­ing,” Woods said Tues­day af­ter go­ing nine holes with Dustin John­son and Bryson DeCham­beau, win­ners of the last two PGA Tour events. “There’s al­ways some­thing that isn’t quite right, and that’s where we as play­ers have to make ad­just­ments. You’ve seen the tour­na­ments I’ve played this year. There’s al­ways some­thing. Hope­fully, this is one of those weeks where I put it all to­gether and even it out. And we’ll see what hap­pens.”

It has been 10 years since Woods won his last U.S. Open, his 14th and last ma­jor. All it takes for him to tem­per any frus­tra­tions is to look back at last year, when he didn’t know if he would even play another U.S. Open.

He was at a low point in his ca­reer and his per­sonal life. While re­cov­er­ing from fu­sion surgery - his fourth surgery on his back in three years - he was ar­rested on a DUI charge and found to have a mix­ture of two painkillers, the sleep­ing aid Am­bien, the anti-anx­i­ety drug Xanax and the ac­tive in­gre­di­ent for mar­i­juana in his sys­tem. He en­tered a clinic to get help and pleaded guilty to a reck­less driv­ing charge that kept him out of jail.

Asked about the video of his ar­rest and how his life has changed, Woods replied, “It’s got­ten bet­ter.”

That seems like longer than a year ago be­cause Woods has been such an ac­tive part of the PGA Tour again. In some in­stances, he looks like the same Woods.

He hit one drive past John­son on the par-5 fifth hole Tues­day that left him a 2-iron to the front of the green. He had two chances to win in March, miss­ing a long birdie putt on the last hole in In­nis­brook and hit­ting a drive out-of-bounds on the 16th hole at Bay Hill the fol­low­ing week.

But no tro­phies. No fist pumps.

“There’s two ways of look­ing at that,” Woods said. “I’ve given my­self chances to win, which I didn’t know if I was ever go­ing to do again. And then again, not happy with the fact that I didn’t win be­cause I loved how it felt be­ing there . ... And so, yeah, I’ve had my op­por­tu­ni­ties. Also, I’m very thank­ful to have had those op­por­tu­ni­ties. I didn’t know if I was go­ing to have them again.”

What kind of op­por­tu­ni­ties will Shin­necock Hills of­fer?

Tues­day was the busiest day of prac­tice un­der a clear sky, warm weather and a course that just about every­one is rav­ing about.

Woods played nine holes in the af­ter­noon Sun­day and Mon­day - a change from the days when he would sweep the dew off the grass first thing in the morn­ing - and nine holes Tues­day morn­ing.

And while the crowd was rel­a­tively sparse for his morn­ing round, there is no mis­tak­ing when Woods is around.

Ja­son Day was on the putting green when only a few peo­ple were around. And then sud­denly, there was a gath­er­ing.

AP PHOTO/JULIE JACOBSON

Tiger Woods tees off on the fourth hole dur­ing a prac­tice round for the U.S. Open Golf Cham­pi­onship Tues­day in Southamp­ton, N.Y.

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