A shock Geoff Ogilvy victory. Disasters at the 72nd hole for Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie. When the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot is the subject for discussion, Tiger Woods isn’t a typical point of reference. Which is unusual in golf context of that era.
There is a clear mitigating circumstance. Back-to-back rounds of 76 meant Woods missed the cut in New York. Far more significant was the backdrop; it was his first major appearance since the passing of his father.
“I was not prepared to play and still dealing with the death of my dad,” the 44-year-old recalled. Woods won the Open Championship at Hoylake the following month, amid moving scenes which depicted the depth of his emotions. This week’s return of the US Open to Winged Foot, naturally, has caused him to glance back 14 years.
“When I didn’t win the Masters that year, that was really tough to take because that was the last event my dad was ever going to watch me play,” Woods said. “He passed not too long after that and quite frankly, when I got ready for this event, I didn’t really put in the time. I didn’t really put in the practice and consequently missed the cut pretty easily.
“After that I was able to do some practising. I did some, probably some pretty good grieving after this championship. I played well at the Western Open and then went on to really play well at the British.”
Still, it would be a mistake to suppose Woods isn’t familiar with the vagaries of the 120th US Open site. He knows all too well the potential brutality of Winged Foot. Ogilvy was plus five when victorious. “I think it’s right up there next to Oakmont and Carnoustie as far as just sheer difficulty without even doing anything to it,” Woods said when asked about the most difficult major venues. “I think those three golf courses, they can host major championships without ever doing anything to them. This one or Oakmont here [in the US] is either one or two.
“The winning scores here have never traditionally been very low. I don’t see that changing this week. The golf course is going to be hard. It depends on how difficult they want to set up these pins, give us a chance at it. But with the forecast, it’s going to be difficult no matter what.”
Woods, a 15-time major champion, is one of just 15 players in the 2020 field who competed in 2006. His comparisons will have traditionalists reaching for stress balls. “The golf course has changed a lot since then,” Woods said. “Obviously the greens, they’ve all been redone and most of the holes are a lot longer than when we played in ’06. Technology has changed and the golf ball is going further, guys are hitting it further. So we’re playing from about the same spots.”
Woods will have Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa, the US PGA champion, for company in the first two rounds. Rory McIlroy will partner Adam Scott and Justin Rose.
Gary Woodland, the defending champion, is among those to shrug off the likely menace of Winged Foot. “You enjoy it,” Woodland said. “You look forward to it. It’s not every week we see this. I think a lot of guys will be looking forward to getting back to some typical setups in the next coming weeks and making a lot of birdies.
“But you look forward to the challenge. This isn’t the norm. But you want to prove that whoever has the best game this week is going to win, and that’s not every week that the best player wins. This week, top to bottom, whoever is playing the best is going to win this golf tournament. And you want that to be yourself. That’s what you work for. That’s what you strive for.”