Farmingdale, N.Y. — Tiger Woods began his final practice round of the U.S. Open by hitting a 5-wood for his second shot on a par 4, which is rare for someone with his power. Stranger still was that it wasn’t enough club to reach the 10th green.
The stubborn side of the defending champion showed up on the 15th fairway at Bethpage Black. Staring toward the elevated green, he backed off his shot and turned to his caddie as if to change clubs, then decided to stick with the 4-iron already in his hands. Woods hit it pure, and when the ball barely reached the green, he laughed.
“I’ve already hit too many 3-irons on par 4s today,” he said.
The scorecard at Bethpage Black shows an additional 212 yards from 2002, when Woods was the only player to finish under par and won the U.S. Open by three shots over Phil Mickelson.
With soggy turf and rain part of every forecast, the Black feels even longer.
“This is probably the most difficult golf course we’ve faced from tee to green,” Woods said Tuesday. “Obviously, it’s not the green complexes this week — certainly not Oakmont, or it’s not Winged Foot. But from tee to green, this golf course is all you want. With the weather coming in here this week, it’s only going to get longer and harder. And it’s going to be even more difficult.”
And that could be right up his alley.
Woods has been on the fast track in the majors for as long as he has been a pro, and more history could await this week.
The U.S. Open is the only major he has failed to win in consecutive years, and a victory this week would make him only the seventh player to win back-to-back. Having won at Bethpage Black in 2002, he will try to join Willie Anderson (1905 at Myopia Hunt) as the only players to defend a U.S. Open on a course where they were the most recent champion.
Add to that Woods’ 65 in the final round to win the Memorial two weeks ago, and he is an overwhelming favorite.
“He’s by far and away the favorite, I would have thought,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “But I don’t think anyone walks around saying, ’We’re playing for second now because Tiger’s playing.’ I think everyone appreciates how good he is, knows he’s going to be in contention and hopes to get there with him.”
The question leading into the U.S. Open, which starts Thursday, is how many have a chance.
And the answer lies as much with Mike Davis, the USGA official setting up the golf course, as it does Woods, Ogilvy, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey or anyone else on top of his game this week.
Seven years ago, the USGA was far more stubborn about its reputation as the “toughest test in golf.” Officials marked each tee box and wouldn’t stray more than five yards from that in either direction.
Davis is known to adjust tees by as much as 40 yards depending on the conditions and the weather.