US Open 2018

Prospects anchored in reality for Woods

Americans Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson look on as Bryson DeChambeau hits from the fifth tee during Tuesday's practice round before the 118th US Open at Shinnecock Hills. The 42-year-old Woods, who last played the event in 2015, will be looking for
Americans Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson look on as Bryson DeChambeau hits from the fifth tee during Tuesday's practice round before the 118th US Open at Shinnecock Hills. The 42-year-old Woods, who last played the event in 2015, will be looking for his fourth US Open, while world No. 1 Johnson, 33, is seeking his second.PHOTO: REUTERS

While his rivals struggle with traffic woes, the former world No.1 utilises a nautical solution

SOUTHAMPTON (New York) • There will be heavy traffic at this US Open. Tiger Woods' yacht is jammed in here along with all of the Lexuses, which are lined up thicker than the shingles on Shinnecock's Victorian clubhouse.

Travelling by "the dinghy," as Woods refers to his 48m vessel, turned out to be a smart move, because funnelling 156 golfers and all that comes with them into a dated summer resort area accessible only by farm lanes has caused gridlock.

Still, the real traffic jam will be on the golf course, with a pileup of contenders ranging in age from Phil Mickelson, who turns 48 this week, to Jordan Spieth, 24.

Mickelson is trying to complete a career Grand Slam, and the 42-year-old Woods is trying to win his first Major in 10 years. Between them and the trophy is a throng of great players under the age of 30, with just about all of them playing well at the same time as they cruise toward Shinnecock Hills, the par-70 artefact that has trouble all over its sandhills, and a history of producing close finishes.

There will not be much room for separation. Has a Major championship ever offered such a classic generational confrontation?

"Certainly, we're on the back ends of our careers," Woods says frankly of him and Mickelson.

It is such an interesting juxtaposition that the USGA could not resist crowding them together for the first two rounds: Woods will play in a threesome with those two dualists for No. 1 in the world, Dustin Johnson, 33, and Justin Thomas, 25; Spieth will be with Mickelson and 29-year-old Rory McIlroy.

Try to find a guy in those threesomes who is playing badly.

"The game, I've got a lot of confidence in my game right now," said Johnson, who won last week with his walk-off eagle at the St Jude Classic. That gave him the No. 1 ranking over Thomas, who held it for all of four weeks.

"He deserves it," said Thomas, "for the time being."

"It almost feels like I'm back in high school and college," said Spieth. "These are the same guys we used to battle it out with then, and I'd win one, then they would win one, then they'd win one. You know, it's just blown up now."

The only one who might be said to be slumping at the moment is Spieth - if you consider four top-10s, and a final-round 64 at the Masters to be a down year. But after fighting off a case of mononucleosis that cost him practice time, he said he has got his equilibrium back.

Woods was absent from the US Open at Erin Hills with the recurring back trouble that has kept him out of the tournament since 2015.

Now he looks more relaxed and comfortable at a Major than in previous years, though that could be a reflection of his comfortable, low-stress accommodation.

Traffic on the two-lane roads into Shinnecock has been so heavy it has taken some players almost two hours to travel 25km. Woods solved the problem by docking his yacht in the tiny village of Sag Harbour, an easy back-roads commute.

In his last Open, he shot 80-76 at Chambers Bay in 2015, while Spieth went on to win his first. It has been a decade since Woods lifted the trophy at Torrey Pines.

"I don't like that feeling," he said.

In between, there have been four back surgeries since 2014, substance abuse, withdrawals, a ranking of 1,199th in the world, and a lot of false starts. But he was a factor at Bay Hill, the Honda Classic and Memorial, and he almost won the Valspar Championship.

Ask him how his life has changed, and he said, "It's better."

That is reflected in everything from his swing to his overall demeanour.

"I've given myself chances to win, which I didn't know if I was ever going to do again," he said.

That makes him viable - if the ship has not sailed.

WASHINGTON POST

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2018, with the headline 'Prospects anchored in reality for Woods'. Print Edition | Subscribe