Tiger Woods has seen its share of challenging golf courses over the years. He didn’t hesitate when asked where Winged Foot Golf Club, home of this week’s US Open, is located.
“Well, I think it’s right up there near Oakmont and I think Carnoustie as far as sheer difficulty without even doing anything about it,” Woods said during a press conference ahead of the tournament on Tuesday. “I think those three golf courses can host major championships without ever doing anything to them.
“This or Oakmont here is one or two.”
Carnoustie is The Open’s place in Scotland where Francesco Molinari won in 2018. Oakmont has hosted several US Open, the most recent, in 2016, won by Dustin Johnson. Winged Foot is hitting the US Open for the sixth time, the first since 2006 when Geoff Ogilvy won with one stroke while Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie rounded the final hole.
Woods missed the cut, the first time he had done so in a major league as a pro. Woods drew for 29th place in the 1997 PGA Championship played at Winged Foot.
The course, in Mamaroneck, New York, has long had a reputation for being difficult. When Ogilvy won in 2006, his winning score was 285.5 more. When Hale Irwin won at 287 in 1974, the tournament was dubbed “The Massacre at Winged Foot”.
Measuring 7,477 yards, the Winged Foot is a par-70 with only two par-5s. It has a brutal final stretch of five straight par-4s, no less than 425 yards.
“There are no tricks; you just have to step forward and hit good shots,” said Gary Woodland, who won last year’s US Open at Pebble Beach. “The key this week is that you have to drive the ball into the fairway. If you don’t, you will end up wedging and trying to hit nearby wedges because you won’t be able to advance too far from the rough.
“For me, this week and what I’ve been highlighting in the last couple of weeks from home is driving the golf ball, and that’s definitely going to be the key this week.”
Ah, the rough. Always causes Winged Foot problems. Woods wondered if he could be cut before the tournament starts given how wet he is now. Woodland said without spectators, it can be difficult to find a ball that travels in the rough. He played his first practice round on Saturday and said he couldn’t find a ball when his caddy simply threw it at him while working on his chipping.
“We didn’t find it until we stepped on it,” he said. “The golf ball can disappear pretty quickly.
“I was talking to USGA [officials]; I was glad they were taking the marshals out yesterday. There was talk of not having marshals in the first couple training sessions. Practice shifts would have been 10 hours out here trying to find golf balls.
“The fact that we have marshals will help. Usually, if you even hit him off the ropes, you hit him in the crowd and you have trampled lies. We don’t have the advantage this week So you’ll have to drive the golf ball into play.”
“So far it seems very, very difficult,” said Johnson, the world’s # 1 player. “One of the hardest I’ve ever played. But that’s right. There’s nothing really complicated about that. You just have to hit good shots.”
None of this bodes well for Woods, who at least three weeks ago got a taste of the US Open conditions at Olympia Fields, home of the BMW championship. That course played a lot like a US Open, but Woods only got a draw for 51st place. He only had nine birdies for the week and struggled with his put.
Since restarting the PGA Tour in June, Woods has only played four events, his best finish being 27th in the PGA Championship. During that time, he only has four rounds in the 1960s and hasn’t broken par in any round at Olympia Fields. Woods, who won his 82nd PGA Tour event last October, dropped from sixth in the world earlier this year to 21st this week.
“This year I haven’t really put in as well as I would have liked, and the times I’ve made some swing mistakes, I’ve been lost in the wrong places,” he said. “As a result, I didn’t get the right look at it. I made mistakes here and there that ended up not making me able to do pars or a birdie run and, as a result, I didn’t compete to win events. ‘ ‘