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Tiger Woods' US Open ended Thursday with 2 unusual scenes

Tiger Woods' US Open ended Thursday with 2 unusual scenes
Tiger Woods' US Open ended Thursday with 2 unusual scenes

 


By: James Colgan June 13, 2024

Tiger Woods' US Open ended in surprising fashion on Thursday.

Darren Riehl/GOLF

PINEHURST, NC The kids weren't screaming, they were chanting.

But on Thursday afternoon at the U.S. Open, it seemed like one chant wouldn't be enough.

“TI-GER TI-GER TI-GER,” they shouted for nearly 15 straight minutes from the Pinehurst No. 2 practice green, alternating pitch and volume depending on the proximity of their subject, Tiger Woods. After an opening round of 74 at the National Championship, Woods told the media he hoped to “hit a few” on the range, provided his back didn't strain on the short drive from the 10th tee box to the clubhouse.

His plan didn't include an autograph session, and if you've been around Tiger even once at a major championship, you knew he was unlikely to step aside, even considering taken from the wildest efforts of these singing children. Woods' eyes focus differently during big weeks, which doesn't leave much room for doodling. But these children were relentless, their resilience impervious to their target's apparent disinterest.

They sang and they sang and they sang. And after what seemed like a while, Woods stopped swinging. He turned to caddy Lance Bennett, took his putter out of his bag and started walking.

“I’m going to hit a few,” he said.

The kids grew in crescendo as Woods drilled the ground with his putter, climbing the small hill to the practice green. In a thousand other moments like these during his life as a major champion, Woods kept his eyes forward, his gaze fixed, his attention elsewhere. But for some strange reason, everything changed on Thursday at the US Open. He looked directly at the leader of the children, a little boy about 8 years old, with shaggy blond hair and a red striped shirt, and walked over.

If you were hoping to find a new version of Tiger Woods at the US Open, Thursday's round at Pinehurst No. 2 failed to convince you.

Woods looked just like the same vision for the past three months on a blazing Thursday morning in North Carolina. His ball speed was sizzling, his upper body chiseled, his movement fluid and violent…and his results maddeningly inconsistent. Officially, he shot four overs on Thursday, nine shots short of the lead established by Patrick Cantlay (and later matched by Rory McIlroy), but unofficially it was much more frustrating. Woods had by far his best driving day of the year, hitting 12 of 14 fairways and putting himself in scoring position all morning on a day when most players found conditions surprisingly easy. Yet he finished 111th in the field in putting average (with a trio of three-putts) and lost more than two shots in the field during his approach game.

“It wasn't as good as I would have liked. I was pretty one-dimensional at the start of the week, which is interesting. I was shooting the ball a lot. Now I'm cutting the ball a lot,” Woods said after his round, a sarcastic smile crossing his face. “Welcome to golf.”

And welcome to the exasperation that has defined Woods' major season in 2024. The driver has been a problem all year, and it was great on Thursday; the irons were excellent and they were very bad; the putter was ice cold during the stretches and red hot during the others. In other words, not everything is there at once.

“It’s pick your poison, right?” Woods said Thursday. “Play a lot with the potential to not play, or not play and fight while being less sharp.”

It's not all bad. Tiger reiterated Thursday that his body is slowly improving and those physical improvements are starting to show in his golf swing. CBS Sports senior analyst Trevor Immelman noted that he hasn't seen this much front leg strength in Woods' swing in “a long time.” On the range Wednesday, he crushed balls for more than an hour without any visible signs of discomfort.

These aren't the incremental improvements of a guy who finds himself seriously in contention every time he goes for it. But these are the incremental improvements of a guy who has spent a lot of time watching what he loves most from behind the scenes. And this second part explains why, if you had hoped to find a new version of Tiger Woods at the US Open, what happened after Thursday's round was so compelling.

It started on the practice range, where Woods' back held up well enough on the short shuttle back to the clubhouse that he was hitting balls for 15 minutes after his round ended, which is rare in his life after a car accident. He seemed encouraged by what he found after a few minutes of solitude with his irons and exactly one driver swing, which traveled the same line as each of his other drivers on Thursday and elicited a one-word response : Yes.

But he seemed more intrigued by what was happening next to him, where his good buddy Justin Thomas was struggling in the funk that left him with a seven-over 77 on Thursday. As Woods put his clubs back in his bag, Thomas' plight could be heard from afar.

“It’s so boxy in here,” Thomas said, frustrated and a little amused, pointing to the golf course. “But over there, it’s millions of kilometers.”

If you've ever seen Tiger in a major championship, you know he doesn't spend a lot of time feeling sorry for his struggling competitors. He has, you may have heard, a well-documented legacy of ignoring everything (and everyone) other than winning.

But for some strange reason, Thursday was different. As Thomas tossed a few more balls into the ether, Woods took a few leisurely steps behind him, closely monitoring his movements during the downswing. He stopped Thomas after the third or fourth shot and a short conversation ensued.

The two worked together for a while and Woods offered some advice, a mini-session that might not have been notable at all if it wasn't Thursday at the US Open and he didn't didn't have Tiger Woods.

He left after a few minutes of talking with Thomas, and he seemed happy. His gaze was now less fierce and his gait began to slow down. A long recovery awaited them, followed by many more hours of physiotherapy before departure time on Friday afternoon. If things went well, he would go through this routine three more times.

The work was just beginning and a putting session was getting in the way.

But first it was time to see the boy in the red striped shirt.

James Colgan Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is News and Features Editor at GOLF, writing articles for the website and magazine. He manages Hot Mic, GOLF's media vertical, and uses his on-camera experience across all of the brand's platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he served as a caddying fellow (and trick looper) on Long Island, where he is originally from. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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