The Big Cat Looks to Climb to the Top at Shinnecock Hills

Ken Ortega
June 13, 2018

The season’s second major is nearly here with the US Open getting underway at Shinnecock Hills on the 14th of June. The Long Island layout will play host to 156 players who will all be vying for the chance to put their names down in golfing folklore history. There is nothing quite like winning the US Open and even if you’re a one-hit wonder, the world will never forget that you were able to tame the toughest layout that season.

The US Open by its very nature is a tournament that asks questions of every part of a golfers game. Players will never arrive at a US Open layout and be able to take aim and shoot; hunting flags could end in disaster as the organizers do everything in their power to punish players who venture the slightest bit off course.

Tiger Woods is one man that knows how to expertly navigate his way around the minefield that is a US Open layout. Woods has managed to do it three times before with his last victory coming in 2008, which coincidentally happened to be the last major win of his career. With less than two weeks to go until the first tee shot is hit on a summer morning in New York, it’s remarkable to think about where Tiger Woods was this time last year.

This time last year

May the 29th 2017 will go down alongside a few other infamous dates in the career of Tiger Woods. The 14-time grand slam champion was found sleeping in his car in the early hours of the morning by police but was let off with a probation after he pleaded guilty to reckless driving.

At the time, it sent shockwaves through not only the golfing fraternity but the world at large. Here was a man once thought invincible but now unable to get himself home due to the amount of pain he was in after four consecutive back surgeries. Anger and frustration was substituted for sympathy and kindness as fellow players and golf fans made a collective effort to rally around the fallen champion in a bid to try and bring some perspective back to the life of Tiger Woods

During this time and the months that followed, the expectation levels of Tiger Woods had fallen to an all-time low but the cynicism had risen to an all-time high. If he wasn’t able to get out of bed, then he certainly wasn’t able to play golf, never mind win another major. On it went and it seemed at the end of the day Woods would be remembered for playing some of the finest golf ever seen but also for throwing away a career that could have been the greatest in sports history, let alone golf.

A year on and how things have changed

A year down the line from all the headlines that stated Woods would never play again and the Big Cat isn’t quite running through his jungle again but he’s up to a canter and looking menacing once more. His progress has been steady and there have been signs of his old unbeatable self every now and again. The very fact that he is playing golf again is nothing short of a miracle so, in that sense, his progress has been lightning quick.

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It really does look like the fusion surgery Woods had done was the key to restoring the health of the ailing champion. There were so many false dawns before he underwent the operation and the hopes of a fourth surgery working seemed like the final roll of the dice. Even Woods has been taken by surprise by how successful it has been and refers to himself as a 'walking miracle'. With no obvious pain anymore Woods has put together an extremely good run of results in the last few months.

The signs are there

Since the turn of the year, Woods has impressed by recording a runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship, a fifth-place finish at the Arnold Plamer Invitational and an 11th-place finish at the Players Championship. It was Woods performance in the Players Championship that really caught the eye, with rounds of 65 and 69 during the weekend. Woods wasn’t the favorite by any means coming into the tournament, Oddschecker had John Rahm as one of the form favorites as far as betting tips went at 25/1 after finishing fourth at the Masters but it was Woods who surprised everyone with a vintage performance on the weekend.

By managing to finish just outside of the top ten, Woods showed that he had it in him to come back after just making the cut on the Friday. That defiant streak was what made Woods the very best and it looks like he is still able to produce even when well behind the eight ball.

Taking the emotion out of the Tiger Woods situation

Perspective is always in short supply whenever Tiger Woods is being spoken about. He’s either completely finished or ready to begin dominating world golf again. The answer doesn’t lie in the middle, it is probably closer to Woods dominating again but there are a few truths that need accepting when summing up the future of the great man.

For a start, Woods is 42 and it isn’t sensational to say his better days are behind him. When golfers turn 40 there is far less silverware ahead than when they were a 20-year old amateur starting out. Age catches up with everyone and even Tiger Woods will feel the effects over the years. For golf fans, that will be a day they never thought would come to pass, seeing Tiger Woods begin closing down on 50.

The toll the operations have had will also begin to show at some stage. It’s hard not to think otherwise after someone has gone under the knife as many times as Woods has.

Those are inescapable truths about Woods but, given that he has shown he can compete with the best in the world again over the past six months, there is reason to believe he still has a few days of glory left. It’s important to remember that for Tiger Woods to enjoy a day of glory it doesn’t mean shooting under par, the Big Cat is on the prowl and could very conceivably win another major or two.

Shinnecock Hills 2018

Tiger Woods is taking the US Open very seriously and stopped off at Shinnecock Hills en route to playing in the memorial tournament in Ohio. It’s not a particularly happy hunting ground for Woods and of the two stars he’s made, his record reads retired hurt and tied 17th. Once again he won’t come in as favorite but certainly someone to watch as he has the experience and class to add a fourth US title to his name.

It would be a fitting way for Woods to announce himself back onto the big stage by winning the US Open, given it was the major he last won a decade ago. With the leaders in the US Open normally hovering around par, this produces a great opportunity for Woods to capitalize. He will need to be patient and limit the mistakes, especially off the tee, which has been the wildest part of his game. Woods simply can’t afford to be playing out the rough at a US Open.

Out of all the players heading down to Shinnecock Hills for the 118th playing of the US Open, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone with a better game plan than Woods. That comes from winning it three times already and knowing when to chase and when to fall into the slipstream. At the moment Woods ticks all the requirements, he has a clean bill of health, he’s in form and has the prior knowledge needed to win. The Big Cat has a way to climb but it is a route he has climbed before and summited many times.

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