Big news out of the Tiger Woods Comeback Trail Campaign, as Woods has committed to play in the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, N.Y. This isn’t exactly a surprise, of course, Woods has been by all accounts healthy and on track ever since his return to professional golf earlier this year. Let’s run down the specifics and details of this announcement.
Why is Woods playing the U.S. Open so significant?
The 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines was, undoubtedly, one of the high points of Woods’ entire career. Playing on what turned out to be a broken leg, Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in the first hole of sudden death following an 18-hole Monday playoff. It was one of the most tense days in golf history, and marked the 14th — and, to date, final — major of Woods’ storied career. Woods has won the U.S. Open three times, and this provides him with another chance to test himself against the world’s best.
What’s his recent history at the event?
N/A, or close to it. Woods hasn’t played the event since 2015, and he missed the cut then. Before that, he finished T6 in 2010 and T4 in 2009, and back then we figured it was only a matter of time before he chased down the 18-major mark of Jack Nicklaus. How naive we all were.
How will Woods do this year?
Don’t look for him to be a betting favorite, except as a way to lure in some starry-eyed rubes. The U.S. Open is traditionally the toughest of the four majors, with punitive roughs that crush players who are wild off the tee … and guess what Woods had a problem with at Augusta? Plus, as astounding as Sunday afternoon at the Masters was, with Patrick Reed holding off furious charges from Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, what’s gone underreported is just how far ahead those players are of Woods at this moment. Tiger 2018 wouldn’t have a hope of either mounting that kind of charge or holding off one. And if you’re looking for past precedent, there’s this: the last time the U.S. Open was played at Shinnecock Hills, in 2004, Woods finished T17 and never seriously challenged for the top of the leaderboard. So plan on Woods to make the cut but finish off the leaderboard, and be happy if his weekend’s anything more successful than that.
Could this be Woods’ last U.S. Open?
This will be, at the moment, the last U.S. Open that Woods qualifies for without any special exemption. Winners of the U.S. Open get a 10-year exemption into the event, while those without one form of exemption or another (world ranking, tournament wins, etc.) have to play their way in via qualifying tournaments held throughout the late spring. Woods last won the event in 2008, meaning this is the final year of his 10-year exemption. He could get another 10-year exemption by winning, or a one-year exemption into the 2019 event by finishing in the top 10 this year. He can also play his way into next year’s tournament by reaching the Tour Championship later this year or reaching the top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings by the time of the tournament.
But if he falls short on any of those scores, don’t go looking for him to play in a Monday qualifying event in Little Rock, Arkansas next year; the USGA will surely give him as many special exemptions as he likes to play in the event going forward. Jack Nicklaus accepted eight special exemptions, and Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson five apiece, so it’s not like it’s some less-than-reputable backdoor way to get into the tournament.
When does the U.S. Open tee off?
This year’s event will take place June 14-17, ending, as it always does, on Father’s Day. Fox will handle broadcast duties. You know you’re going to watch, so go ahead and start making plans to reserve the couch right now.
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