Woods can laugh despite a 78

SOUTHAMPTON • On the eve of the US Open, Tiger Woods was hitting bunker shots in the short-game practice area when Rory McIlroy entered his peripheral vision.

Woods stopped and wished the Northern Irishman well. Then he extended his hand for McIlroy to shake, and mischievously pulled him into the bunker.

When the Open's first round began on Thursday at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Woods had to grind to avoid being yanked into the same abyss that swallowed McIlroy, who posted a 10-over 80 in the morning.

Teeing off several minutes after McIlroy signed his score card, Woods' round frayed like a kite tail in Shinnecock's 20mph (32kmh) gusts as he opened with a triple-bogey seven at the first hole and racked up two double-bogeys - including a four-putt at the 13th - on his way to a 78.

This, despite revising his game plan after watching the early carnage from his yacht, Privacy.

Instead of focusing on the holes where he thought he could chase birdies - because the wind swept away those prospects - Woods said his aim was to avoid any scores over bogey.

"And then I made three of them," he said.

And then he laughed.

Those were the days when Woods was an executioner in exercise clothing. He could shatter an opponent's confidence with his stare, and he gave away few strokes and fewer secrets.

But then came the public revelations of marital infidelities in November 2009, leading to the dissolution of his marriage, and the back surgeries followed, leading to the disintegration of his game.

Since rejoining the Tour in January, after his latest operation, Woods has shown flashes of his old game - and a new openness. The glares are gone, replaced by gratitude and a good-natured attitude.

On a day when Shinnecock Hills turned into a grinder's paradise, Woods, the prince of perseverance, faltered. And lived to laugh about it.

"He seems on a mission to repair his body, his game and his image," Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said. "Perhaps it's because his kids are old enough to Google their father or perhaps when he was at his lowest point, he found the value in friends and they got through to him."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2018, with the headline 'Woods can laugh despite a 78'. Print Edition | Subscribe