After two straight months of questions about Tiger Woods' putter, he answered them with an opening-round 73 at the 2020 U.S. Open on Thursday. The problems came everywhere else for Woods.
Woods nearly led the morning wave of players in strokes gained putting, burying several long ones that resulted in five birdies on the day. This was not expected coming into the week. Woods has tinkered with his putter length and grip over the last handful of tournaments, which did not inspire a ton of confidence on Winged Foot's lolling, difficult greens. And yet, the trusty Scotty Cameron was the only thing that stood between him and shooting 77 to start the sixth-ever U.S. Open at this course.
A putting performance like the one he put on display on Thursday should have led to a round that got him in contention after 18 holes. For a while, it did, as Woods got to red figures after making three straight birdies on holes 9-11 and nearly one on the 12th, too. But hitting just six fairways and nine greens in regulation caught up to him coming home. He made bogey at three of his last six and a double at the last (after chunking a chip) to fall eight back of a lead held by playing partner Justin Thomas.
"I did not finish off the round like I needed to," said Woods. "I made a bunch of putts in the middle part of the round. It seemed like most of my drives on the front nine landed in the fairway and ended up in bad spots, and I tried to stay as patient as possible, and unfortunately just did not finish off my round the way I needed to."
It was not an inspiring start. If the tee-to-green game was clicking, you could at least talk yourself into him finding a hot putter over the final three days. But the construction of his first round on Thursday has the makings of even worse scores later this week. What if he hits it like he did on Thursday but doesn't make the 15- and 20-footers he hit in Round 1 that help him piece together a score?
U.S. Opens have not treated Tiger kindly over the last decade. Since finishing T4 in 2010 at Pebble Beach, Woods does not have a single top-10 finish. He has as many missed cuts (three) as he has made cuts since. He has played just one weekend (also at Pebble Beach, last year) since 2014.
Woods will go into Friday's second round needing something much better than what he had on Thursday if he wants to play the weekend for the second straight year at this event. Unfortunately for him, he probably played himself out of true contention on Thursday (unless we get an all-time closing 54-hole performance).
Interestingly, it did not happen the way we thought it might. After struggling for four events to score because of a putter that kept letting him down, it turned out to be the only thing that kept him from a truly disastrous showing in Round 1 at Winged Foot.