Skip to content

Tiger's rusty Round 1 at U.S. Open becoming familiar

Tracy Wilcox / PGA TOUR / Getty

Tiger Woods started the day with a bang at Pinehurst - but then he barely kept his train on the U.S. Open tracks en route to a 4-over 74 on Thursday.

The 48-year-old birdied his opening hole at the iconic layout to briefly hold the top spot, but struggled with his approach play the remainder of the day to sit nine shots back of the clubhouse lead after the early wave in Round 1.

Pinehurst should have presented a great opportunity for Woods to show us he can still compete with the best golfers in the world. After all, his mental game gives him an advantage over his contemporaries, and he plodded his way around the course with smart misses and waited to take advantage at the proper time. While that provides very little value at a scoring-fest like Valhalla last month, it's a perfect fit for tough U.S. Open conditions.

Woods has often said that playing in the cold is difficult due to his extensive injuries. But Thursday was the opposite: Brilliant sunshine and temperatures over 80 degrees graced the Pinehurst course.

Again, that combination should have given Woods plenty of confidence heading into Thursday, yet the 15-time major champion still looked rusty in areas we're used to seeing him thrive.

Approach play is at a premium at Pinehurst, which should appeal heavily to Woods and his pinpoint control. However, issues arose with his irons at Valhalla, and Woods ranked 133rd in approach in the 156-player field. Those concerns haunted him again Thursday, and he finished his round ranked 62nd of the 78 players in the early wave in strokes gained: approach.

Woods admitted in a televised press conference that his irons weren't firing at the level he wanted entering the event.

"They were okay. It wasn't as good as I'd like. I was pretty one-dimensional early in the week, which is interesting. I was drawing the ball a lot. Now I'm cutting the ball. Welcome to golf," he said with a smile.

Eight holes were particularly concerning for the three-time winner, who was in the fairway or on a par-3 tee box with less than 190 yards in. That's a green light in many examples, but Woods averaged 51 feet in proximity to the hole on those eight chances.

Hole 11: 166 yards to 65 feet
Hole 18: 134 yards to 31 feet
Hole 1: 153 yards to 37 feet
Hole 2: 188 yards, missed green 58 feet to hole
Hole 3: 137 yards to 33 feet
Hole 7: 162 yards, missed green 30 feet to hole
Hole 8: 187 yards, missed green 67 feet to hole
Hole 9: 186 yards, missed green 90 feet to hole

"It's hard to get the ball close," Woods said. "In most golf courses you play, you hit shots into where it's feeding off of slopes into flags, where it's collecting. Here everything is repelling. It's just hard to get the ball on top of the shelves."

His putter was hot and cold over the 18 holes, starting with an impressive roll to birdie his opening one - the par-5 10th. Clutch putts from ten and eight feet on holes 12 and 13 kept him under par, but that production is usually unsustainable over 18 holes.

Putting was a major issue at Augusta this year, and Woods ranked 5th-last on the greens among players who made the cut. That showed again on Thursday, as Woods three-putted from 47 feet on No. 17 and 37 feet on No. 1, which both resulted in bogeys. He would drop another shot with a missed 4-footer on No. 4.

Woods finished his round ranked 60th of 78 players in strokes gained: putting, but can also point to his putter as the main reason his 74 wasn't a few shots worse. He made an 8-foot par putt on No. 6 and canned a 17-footer to save par on No. 7.

It's an uphill climb for Woods to make the cut on Friday at Pinehurst. Thursday's effort didn't offer much hope he'll be around on the weekend. Outside of the Masters, Woods hasn't played four rounds at a major since the 2020 PGA Championship, roughly a year before the car accident that severely injured his right leg.

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox