SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Tiger Woods shot a 8-over 78 at Shinnecock Hills on Thursday in the first round of the 2018 U.S. Open, his first start at this national championship since bowing out with a missed cut at Chambers Bay in 2015. Woods made just one birdie to two bogeys, two doubles and a triple on a day when the field scoring average soared to beyond 76.
It did not start well for Tiger. Then again, it rarely does. Woods once famously double bogeyed the first hole of the 2008 U.S. Open (which he went on to win in a playoff) three times out of four. He was one worse than that on Thursday when he tripled the first at Shinnecock Hills after gutting the middle of the fairway off the tee.
However, that set the stage for what would be an impressive 11-hole brawl with one of the best American championship courses ever. He kept his score at just 1 over for those next 11 holes. Then it came undone again on Nos. 13 and 14 in different ways. Woods four-putted the 13th from 40 feet away before blowing his tee shot on No. 14 out to the right and hacking his way all the way to a second-straight six.
Here's the best way to frame how well Tiger was hitting it on Thursday: He was with the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world -- Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas -- and rarely did he have more yardage into holes than they did. Rarely was he the one out of position. Rarely was he the one teeing off last. But the margins are thin at these championships, maybe this one most of all.
Some people who casually follow golf think Tiger gets pumped up because of his name. Here's the reality: In terms of strokes gained from tee to green -- the best stat we have to measure the best ball-strikers in the world -- Woods ranks sixth, a bit behind Johnson and Thomas, who are the top two. It was easy in the first round to see why Woods' ranking is so high.
But two shots -- his second on the first that went over the green and led to triple and his first on the 14th that led to another double -- as well as the four-putt led to an underwhelming reentry into the world of the U.S. Open. His putter often let him down, too, as it has done so many times of late. He missed a handful of makable birdie putts that would have softened the blow.
"I didn't putt well today, and I thought I hit it ... I drove it pretty darn good for most of the day," said Woods. "Just never really took advantage of the opportunities. Making a triple and two doubles, not very good."
Woods' 78 probably looks like he was horrible, but he actually wasn't that much worse than the rest of a field that was, on average, more than 6 over on the day. It's also easier to rationalize away two or three really bad holes than it is a round in which you make 10 or more bogeys. Tiger was, quite literally, just a few strokes away from something strong on a wind-swept day on Long Island.
But now we're left in an interesting position for Woods and so many other stars (Jon Rahm, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy among them). The top 60 make the cut, and all of those guys are well outside the number. What was shaping up to be an elite U.S. Open leaderboard has turned a little sketchy in a hurry. Woods (and others) could rebound of course, but it will take an even more precise Big Cat on Friday than the one we saw on Thursday.
The bigger issue, too, is that his short game is just not at the level it needs to be to win a U.S. Open. You win majors by saving par and making 8-footer after 8-footer, and Woods couldn't do much of either on Thursday. If that doesn't change on Friday, Woods will miss the weekend at the U.S. Open for fifth-consecutive year.