Tiger Woods has not exactly burned up the Merion Golf Club track in the start of his quest for a 15th major championship (11 of 16 fairways and 14 of 20 greens in regulation in round one). With all the talk about his achin’ wrist/elbow, and travails out of the thick, juicy rough, however, it’s the short stick in the bag of the world No. 1 that has him muttering to himself at the U.S. Open.
Exhibit A: Woods hit a nasty tee shot on the par-4 12th at the start of his second round on Friday that put him deep into the tall grass. His approach shot (which elicited the first wince of his round as he wrapped his left arm behind him) was stout, leaving a makeable birdie putt to get to 2-under for the tourney.
As has been his wont since he stunk up the greens at the Memorial -- after which he dropped from first on tour in strokes gained to fifth -- his uphill right-to-left putt (“the kind you just lick your chops at the U.S. Open to try to make,” said two-time Open winner Andy North) slid by the cup.
Even before he missed another 8-footer for par on 14, North’s ESPN colleague Paul Azinger wondered if it might be time for Woods to schedule a session with his unofficial putting coach, Steve Stricker. Tiger has worked frequently on his short game with his old friend and Ryder Cup partner, one of the most reliable on tour with a blade, most recently in March at Doral when he rode his Nike Method to his second victory of the year.
“When Stricker was working with Tiger, he just made some set-up changes -- a little bit of his stance, his ball position, even his posture a bit and his grip,” Azinger said. “There’s a lot of little things going on and Tiger went on a tear.
“He just thrives on these nasty little downhillers,” Azinger added before the miss on 14.
“I played well this week and thank you to Steve for the putting lesson,” Woods said at the time. “It was one of those weeks where I felt pretty good about how I was playing and I made some putts and pretty much got it rolling.”
After needing a ghastly 36 putts in his opening round at Merion, and conceding afterward that he was clueless about the speeds of the greens, Woods may well agree with Azinger about needing a tune-up with Stricks.
“I would like to say I probably would have [figured it out on my own] but -- there’s a but there,” Woods told reporters after finishing one-two with Stricker at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. “I’ve been putting at home and it hasn’t felt right. I still was a little bit off.”
Calling Dr. Stricker. Dr. Steve Stricker.