When Tiger Woods improbably holed out a 49-foot, 10-inch chip shot from the rough for a birdie, the crowd surrounding the 16th hole at Muirfield Village Golf Club roared while Woods emoted emphatically with a fist pump. That was the scene on one of the final holes of the 2012 Memorial Tournament, a day on which Woods came back to win the tournament from a four-stroke deficit.
Woods’ performance at the Memorial was a vintage Tiger display, especially on Sunday, June 3, the tournament’s final day. Woods was in control of his game, hitting 14 of 18 greens in regulation, while shooting a final-round 67 to finish the tournament at 9-under, two strokes ahead of Andres Romero and Rory Sabbatini, who tied for second place. Woods’ final round even had its signature moment, that being his 16th-hole chip-in which went on to be the No. 1 play on that night’s episode of SportsCenter.
Less than two weeks later, Woods is preparing to compete in the 112th U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif., where play begins Thursday.
Woods is a 14-time major champion, but has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. Once a dominant force in professional golf, Woods has had problems both on and off the golf course over the past four years. Coming off of a dramatic victory, however, Woods’ game looks to be as strong as it has been in any point over the past four years. This could be the weekend that Woods wins a long-awaited 15th major.
Following his victory at the Memorial Tournament, Woods is fourth in the Official World Golf Ranking, while he ranks third in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. Woods has clearly established himself once again as being one of the world’s best golfers, and less than two weeks removed from a victory, there is reason for Woods to go into the U.S. Open as a favorite.
Woods has certainly been hitting the ball well, but he also seems to have regained his confidence and on-course demeanor. In recent years, Woods has often been defined by his on-course outbursts, including occasional profanity and throwing his clubs. At the Memorial, Woods’ focus appeared to be locked in, and his passion and confidence showed through clearly in his celebration of his masterful chip-in on the 16th hole.
Woods’ confidence even carried over to the post-tournament press conference. When he was asked whether he thought he was “back”, he gave a simple response.
“I won,” Woods replied with a laugh.
Of course, Woods needs more than confidence to win the U.S. Open. Playing against the best golfers in the world, Woods must replicate his performances from this year’s Memorial Tournament and Arnold Palmer Invitational, the two tournaments he has won, by playing at the top of his game.
Going into the U.S. Open off of a win certainly helps to build momentum, but it will not necessarily lead to a strong performance. Woods finished 15 strokes back of winner Bubba Watson, in a tie for 40th place, at the 2012 Masters, which also came two weeks following the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Additionally, Woods had won the Memorial Tournament in four previous seasons, but only won the U.S. Open in one of those four seasons (2000).
At the Memorial, Woods tied for first by hitting 53 of 72 greens in regulation for the tournament, while he tied for 14th by hitting 43 of 56 fairways off the tee. On the contrary, Woods only hit 40 of 72 greens in regulation at the Masters, which tied him for 51st, while he only hit 32 of 56 fairways, the second-worst total of any player to play all four rounds. Woods’ success or failure in the U.S. Open will likely be determined by his consistency in driving the ball accurately off of the tee and setting himself up with birdie putts.
There was once an era when Woods was expected to win in every tournament he played, and if he was playing at his best, he was virtually unbeatable. Those days may have come and gone, but Woods’ vintage performance at the Memorial shows that he is ready to add to his long list of major championship victories sooner rather than later.