Tiger Woods is going to win the 2018 U.S. Open ...

... if he drives the ball like he did on the weekend at the 2018 Players Championship. 

After losing over two strokes to the field off the tee in Round 1, Woods picked up strokes in each of the final three rounds and finished 40th (middle of the pack) overall. That might not sound all that great, but after the start he got off to it was impressive. And Tiger, like his contemporary Phil Mickelson, doesn't have to drive it spectacularly to compete at and win golf tournaments.

The loudest note was of course the monstrous drive he rocked on the par-4 14th hole on Sunday. Woods found the DFZ (divot-free zone) 354 yards away and had just 111 yards in at one of the harder holes on the course. I mean, this thing was obliterated. And Woods wasn't just hitting it as far as he could and trying to find it. He was working it both ways and neatly slitting fairways.

"I didn't play particularly well in the first couple days, but I turned it around this weekend and I got it rolling," said Woods.

So what changed? Well, Woods started sinking putts, and he said on both Saturday and Sunday that his score was about the worst he could have shot. Woods talked about his putter a lot, but he matched those putting numbers with his numbers off the tee. Consider this:

  • Rounds 1-2: Lost 1.45 strokes off the tee | Gained 0.2 strokes with the putter
  • Rounds 3-4: Gained 2 strokes off the tee | Gained 3.9 strokes with the putter

So we felt the difference on the greens, but it was because Woods hit 22 fairways off the tee (after hitting 13 in the first two rounds) that he was even in position to make those 14 birdies on the weekend. Woods had 25 (!) looks inside 20 feet on Saturday and Sunday. That's absurd. You don't get that many looks unless you're leaving yourself wedges and short irons from good angles.

Woods' struggle all year has been off the tee. He's top 15 in both approach-the-green shots and around-the-green shots and 34th in putting. Those are all great numbers, but he's also 105th in driving. That's why him finishing 11th and 8th on the weekend in driving was so impressive and likely what propelled him to a 65-69 close and T11 finish.

"I felt very comfortable with every facet of my game today," said Woods after the 3-under 69 on Sunday. "Everything felt good. I had control; I was hitting it high, low, right, left, didn't matter what it was. I felt like I had control of it today."

Now, the attention for Woods turns to Shinnecock and the U.S. Open. The USGA is apparently going to turn up the heat and tighten up the fairways for players this year. If Woods hits it off the tee like he did on Saturday and Sunday, that 15th major is very much in play.

"[I feel] like I've got the tournament experience now," said Woods. "I got my feels, and I know what I'm going to do in a tournament. This weekend was more like it."

There aren't enough eyeballs emojis in my phone for a quote like that. On to Shinnecock.