Tiger Woods is hoping to find the missing piece of the jigsaw at Shinnecock Hills to claim a first win since his latest comeback and end a 10-year victory drought in the majors.
Woods won the last of his 14 major titles at the 2008 US Open but has not played in the event since 2015, when he shot rounds of 80 and 76 at Chambers Bay.
The 42-year-old played just four times in the following two seasons due to a career-threatening back injury and off-course problems, but underwent spinal fusion surgery in April 2017 and has missed just one cut in nine events in 2018.
Chances to win his 80th PGA Tour title have so far gone begging, but Woods knows he is fortunate to simply be competing at the highest level again given the amount of knee and back injuries he has suffered in recent years.
“I had no expectation to think I could actually be here again,” Woods said. “This time last year I was just given the okay to start walking again.
“It was about just having my standard of life. Forget golf. Could I participate in my kids’ lives again? That was the main goal, being able to play again was a bonus.
“A lot of this is a pure bonus because of where I was. To be here is a great feeling and one I don’t take for granted.
“I have given myself chances to win which I did not know I was ever going to do again, but also I’m not happy with the fact that I didn’t win.
“I had a chance at Valspar [finishing one behind Paul Casey], at Bay Hill I was rolling with a few holes to go [until driving out of bounds on the 70th hole].
“Golf is always frustrating. There’s always something that is not quite right and that’s why we have to make adjustments.
“Of the tournaments I’ve played in this year there’s been something missing; hopefully this is one of those weeks where I put it all together and we’ll see what happens.”
Woods is one of 20 players in the field who also contested the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock Hills, when playing conditions meant 28 of the 66 players amazingly failed to break 80 in a final round which had to be halted in order to water the seventh green.
He also competed here in 1995 but said: “It has changed a lot from the two times I played it previously. It’s a lot longer, the fairways seem to be twice as wide. It’s a very different test.
“The greens are not quite up to speed but they are right where they want them to be and as it dries out it’s going to be another great US Open test.”
Another test could be the heavy traffic getting into the course, with Woods feeling one of his fellow competitors could even miss their scheduled tee time.
But Woods himself will not have any such issues after docking his multi-million dollar yacht at nearby Sag Harbor.
Woods joked: “Staying on the dinghy helps!”
Some journeys from official hotels west of the course have been taking up to two and a half hours and Woods added: “There’s a good chance someone might miss their time.
“You get a little traffic or a fender bender and it’s conceivable.”
Former world number one Tiger Woods has filed an entry to play in this year’s US Open at Shinnecock Hills, tournament organisers confirmed on Thursday.
The 14-time major champion, who has not played in the US Open since 2015, had been expected to return to the event this year following a successful comeback from back surgery.
The 42-year-old finished tied for 32nd place at last week’s Masters at Augusta, his first major since returning from injury.
Woods won the last of his 14 majors at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.
This year’s US Open will take place at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, in Southampton, New York from June 14-17, where Woods has played twice before.
Now both golf legends like Woods’s chances to win the 82nd Masters.
After hitting Thursday’s ceremonial tee shots to begin the year’s first major tournament at Augusta National, Player and Nicklaus both said a Woods victory this week would rank as one of the greatest comeback stories in sports history.
“I’ve been amazed at how well he has come back,” Nicklaus said. “He has had to accommodate his fusion and I think that his golf swing is considerably better than it ever was because of that. He would certainly be one of my two or three favorites to win.”
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the record 18 majors won by Nicklaus, has not won a major title in nearly 10 years, since the 2008 US Open, and hasn’t won the Masters since 2005.
Since then, Woods has undergone divorce after a cheating scandal, several leg and knee injuries and four back operations. He hasn’t won any title since 2013 but is contending and driving well after spinal fusion, a self-dubbed “walking miracle.”
“When he was duffing chips. I thought, ‘Man, this guy’s gone.’ I never thought he would get over that. He was swinging very poorly,” Player said.
“He has been through a lot of adversity and has handled it extremely well,” Player said. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him win this week. This is a golf course that’s made for him.”
South Africa’s Player said Woods would have 20 major wins had he not consulted with coaches on swing changes while he was dominating rivals and torching courses.
“Tiger Woods, it always frustrates me because we always want to see somebody break records and he was on the verge of breaking every single record,” Player said. “The reason he didn’t, because he changed his swing.
“The reason Tiger Woods never went on and won 20 majors is… he won the US Open by 15 shots and then he’s having a lesson. Those pros were probably marvelous teachers with amateurs, but could they break 85 on this course? Had they been in the arena to understand?
“I never really understood that because you couldn’t really get any better. He was phenomenal and had he not done that,
I really believe he would have won at least 20 majors.”
Nicklaus, 78, and Player, 82, hit the ceremonial tee shots for the second time since the 2016 death of fellow legend and former honorary starter Arnold Palmer.
“We all miss Arnold,” six-time Masters winner Nicklaus said. “Arnold has been part of our three amigos for a long time. We obviously miss him greatly. But it’s always a thrill to come out on the first tee.”
Three-time Masters champion Player, who won nine career majors, outdrove Nicklaus.
“I said to Jack, ‘Don’t worry, I outdrive you now, but you outdrove me for 50 damn years,'” Player said.
Player and Nicklaus both applauded Augusta National for launching a women’s amateur event next year, but Player noted with regret the club founded the 1933 did not admit its first woman member until 2012.
“It’s something that I never thought I would see in my lifetime,” Player said of a women’s event at Augusta National.
“I vividly remember when they were talking about women being members of the golf club. Tiger Woods and I really stood up for them and said that they should be admitted into the club, much to our detriment amongst a lot of the members.
“I’m a great believer in women’s rights. And now to see this ladies tournament take place is just fantastic.”
Player said Asian talent is on the rise, especially in China, and likely to contend for a Masters green jacket one day soon.
“They’ve got wonderful golfers coming along,” he said. “It’s on a massive rise.”