Three takeaways from Tiger Woods’ Tuesday practice round

MAMARONECK, N.Y. — By his admission on Tuesday, Tiger Woods was not ready to play in the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. His father, Earl, had recently died, and Woods did not put in the practice time necessary before taking on the challenge of one of the most demanding courses in the United States.

He missed the cut 14 years ago, but is now trying to win his fourth U.S. Open and 16th major.

Tiger played a practice round on Tuesday morning with Justin Thomas and John Augenstein, the Vanderbilt star who was the 2019 U.S. Amateur runner-up.

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Practice rounds are typically loose affairs, with golfers often hitting more than one tee shot, trying numerous chips and pitch shots and completely ignoring the hole’s location. However, they can provide an insight into how well a player is hitting the ball and what he thinks will important for success.

Here are my three takeaways from Tiger’s Tuesday practice round.

Tiger did not look good off the tee

Tiger hit 3-wood off the tee on the 11th hole, a 384-yard par 4, and missed the fairway to the left. On the next hole, the 633-yard par-5 12th, Woods again found the left rough after hitting driver. The grass was so thick and tall that even taking a full swing, his second shot only advanced the ball about 100 yards. Tiger’s divot looked like an exploded head of cabbage flying through the air.

Tiger’s driver on the 14th hole went into the fairway bunker on the left, and then, on the par-4 15th, he hit two extra 3-wood shots after his first went into the left rough.

He missed the fairway to the right on the 16th hole, then hit another tee shot and split the fairway. Tiger found another fairway bunker on the right side of the 17th hole before hitting into the left rough on 18.

“Wow,” said Tiger’s caddie, Joe LaCava, upon seeing Woods’ lie on 18. Instead of playing the ball, Tiger picked it up and dropped it in the fairway. Justin Thomas, who also missed left on 18, did the same thing.

It was only nine holes on a meaningless Tuesday, but if Woods doesn’t straighten out his driving, he will struggle at Winged Foot.

Woods may putt instead of chip

On several occasions, Woods dropped several balls in front of the green and hit pitch shots and chip shots at tees positioned in spots where logical hole locations might be this week. That happens every week, but Woods also practiced putting from those same spots on the 12th, 14th and 17th holes. That is not something we see much at PGA Tour events.

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Tiger Woods on the 12th hole during a practice round on Tuesday at Winged Foot in advance of the U.S. Open. Photo by David Dusek/Golfweek

Several holes at Winged Foot have false fronts and closely mowed areas that guard the greens. The lies are incredibly tight, and that can make pitching over humps and ridges tricky business. It was fascinating to watch him study how balls slowly rolled off the 14th green. They wobbled, sometimes for 10 to 15 seconds as Tiger made mental notes of where they finally came to rest before putting them back to different spots.

Don’t be surprised to see Tiger putting from 30 feet off some putting surfaces.

Woods’ lag putting appeared solid

If Tiger is wayward off the tee and forced to play shots from the rough, just getting the ball on the green is often be a good accomplishment. The greens will likely roll to about 12 on the Stimpmeter starting on Thursday and could reach 13 by Sunday afternoon. Many have large swales and undulations too, so lag putting and controlling the speed on long putts will be critical.

Woods, Thomas and Augenstein often ignored the holes Tuesday morning and opted to putt at tees they put in the greens’ corners, so gauging how well they putted was tough. However, Tiger spent a lot of time hitting 30- to 50-foot putts, monitoring how the balls rolled off slopes and features. His lag putts rarely stopped more than a few feet from the hole and replicating that this week could help him avoid three-putts and bogeys.

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