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2020 U.S. Open: It’s a different Winged Foot for Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods practices before the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot
Tiger Woods works on his bunker game in the practice area at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

14 years ago when the Open visited Winged Foot, an emotionally fragile Woods missed the cut, but it's different for his return

Fourteen years ago, during the U.S. Open's most recent visit to Winged Foot Golf Club, Tiger Woods was in the field, but his mind was elsewhere.

The 106th Open represented a return to competition for Woods after a two-month absence when his father, Earl, died. Woods shot 76-76 and missed the cut. It was the first time that he did not advance to the weekend of a major championship since the 1996 Masters, when he was an amateur. During the ensuing span of 39 majors, Woods won 10 of them.

Woods, at 44, is not the same player this week as he was in the early 2000s, at the height of his dominance. Various back and knee injuries and numerous surgeries limited his effectiveness in some years. But mentally, he says he will be focused on trying to win his 16th major championship and, in the process, setting the PGA Tour’s all-time victory mark, at 83.

“When I didn't win the Masters that year [2006], that was really tough to take because that was the last event my dad was ever going to watch me play,” Woods said Tuesday of the most recent Open at Winged Foot, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. “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.”

That lapse didn’t last. After his quick exit from Winged Foot in 2006, Woods ran off one of the most impressive streaks on the PGA Tour this side of Byron Nelson in 1945: He ended the season with six consecutive victories, including the British Open and PGA Championship, before starting 2007 with another triumph.

The emotional letdown that toppled Woods at Winged Foot didn’t last.

Woods hasn’t competed since he tied for 51st at the BMW Championship, the PGA Tour’s second of three playoff events, three weeks ago. He has slipped to No. 21 in the world ranking, the first time in two years that he has been outside of the top 20. In six starts in 2020, Woods posted only one top-10 result, a T-9 in January at Torrey Pines, the site of his 2008 U.S. Open victory. In his five other starts, he finished no better than T-37, at the PGA Championship.

After playing a practice round Tuesday, Woods said the rough is “very thick and lush” and will affect scoring. He compared the course in difficulty to Olympia Fields, the site of the recent BMW, which Jon Rahm won in a playoff after he and Dustin Johnson had tied at 4 under for 72 holes.

“This golf course is going to be one of the more difficult ones,” said Woods, a three-time Open champion. “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.”

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