For Tiger Woods, the saddest aspect of an opening round of 80 at the US Open is the lack of eyebrows that will be raised on account of it.
The chapters of ignominy keep on flowing for a player who had carded just one professional round of 80 or more from a total of 1,107 between 1996 and 2014. This year, he has trebled that number.
Fifteen years to the day since Woods won the US Open by 15 shots, he topped a three-wood from the middle of the 18th fairway at Chambers Bay into the deepest bunker on the course. Already nine over par, his hopes of breaking 80 suddenly vanished. He has rarely looked so dejected, so beaten, so incapable of the rousing return for which many golfing fans long.
This has become painful viewing, which leaves onlookers to wonder just how Woods truly feels about his sharp demise. For all he has been adamant that more competitive play is the key to improved performance, the 14-time major winner is suffering embarrassment after embarrassment in front of the watching world. Cole Hammer, a 15-year-old amateur, outscored Woods by three here.
After what seems an inevitable missed cut on the outskirts of Seattle, it would be no real surprise if Woods opts to take another break from tournament play. Despite his positive comment to the contrary, there is no evidence whatsoever that Woods can threaten, let alone dominate, leaderboards. Woods has more rounds in the 80s during this season than the 60s. Some form of reassessment is required.
Prior to Thursday, his highest-scoring single US Open round was 77; that was as an amateur in 1996. Chambers Bay witnessed the fourth highest round of Woods’s professional career. To his credit, and in a departure from what plenty others would do in the same lamentable scenario, a sanguine Woods faced the media thereafter. He had just produced a back nine of 41.
“I’m not very happy, that’s for sure,” said the 39-year-old. “It was a tough day. I got off to a bad start and then just couldn’t quite get it turned around.
“It’s one of those things, just got to work through it. I’m trying as hard as I can to do it, and for some reason I just can’t get the consistency that I’d like to have out there.
“I fought, I fought hard. And that was my number. I couldn’t grind out any harder than that. So that’s just the way I played and unfortunately it was a high number today.”
Woods admitted this is as challenging a period as he has ever encountered. His solution? “Keep working. Keep grinding and keep working.”
The 13th hole at Chambers Bay has the widest fairway in US Open history; Woods missed it. He triple bogeyed the 14th. Earlier, at the 8th, his club flew into the air from his hands as he played from wild rough. The 16th witnessed his solitary birdie.
There was also a smile. If Woods’s score wasn’t a shock, the 81 of Rickie Fowler, one of his playing partners, certainly was. “The bright side is, at least I kicked Rickie’s butt today,” Woods said. That sense of humour has never been more necessary.
Fowler has been the model of recent major championship consistency and was many people’s tip to claim this event. Barring something astonishing, he won’t survive for the weekend. Only one player, a club professional named Rich Berberian, scored worse on day one than Fowler.
Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson shared the lead at five under par 65. Patrick Reed lies a shot adrift.