DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Tiger Woods hasn’t been this busy on the golf course all year.
And the Memorial hasn’t even started.
Woods began his week by flying to Pacific Northwest for two days of practice at Chambers Bay, the start of his preparations for the U.S. Open. The course along the shores of Puget Sound is so mysterious to so many players that he said it took nearly seven hours to get through 18 holes on his first day of practice.
“And the next day — yesterday — was a little bit quicker because we knew what to do, what to expect, what lines to take,” Woods said Wednesday after his pro-am round at Muirfield Village. “We just knew how to play the golf course.”
That’s not an issue at the Memorial, where Woods has won a record five times.
He last won in 2012 with a chip from behind the 16th that even host Jack Nicklaus said was one of the best shots he ever saw. The following year, he set another record with a career-worst 44 on the back nine (which he tied on the back nine at the Phoenix Open this year).
Still to be determined is what kind of game Woods brings to both tournaments.
“It’s still evolving, but it’s getting better,” Woods said.
He took a two-month break early in the year when his golf sunk to a new low, highlighted by his 82 in the Phoenix Open, and Woods made a remarkable return at the Masters by tying for 17th and then making the cut in The Players Championship three weeks later. It was the first time since the end of 2013 that Woods completed consecutive 72-hole events.
“A lot more comfortable coming into this week than The Players,” he said. “We had to do some pretty good work going into The Players. But this one is a little bit easier.”
The hard part is the field.
Even with Rory McIlroy taking the week off after his stretch of five straight tournaments on two continents, the Memorial features six of the top 10 in the world. Masters champion Jordan Spieth struggled at his hometown even at the AT&T Byron Nelson last week outside Dallas, though he still gets the players’ attention.
The caddies for Spieth and Players Championship winner Rickie Fowler were standing outside the clubhouse Wednesday morning when Matt Jones arrived. He congratulated Fowler’s caddie, Joe Skovron, on his big win at the TPC Sawgrass. And then he looked at Michael Greller, the caddie for Spieth, and jokingly congratulated him for this week.
He’s on that kind of a roll.
Spieth had an 82 his first year at the Memorial. He returned that fall for the Presidents Cup at age 19 and won two of his matches, along with making a hole-in-one during practice. A year ago, he was in the mix going into Sunday until closing with a 75.
What he loves most are the pure greens, and Spieth has one of the best putting strokes on tour.
“The greens are arguably tied for first or second only to Augusta National as far as speed and how pure they are consistently each year,” Spieth said. “I love putting on greens where you have to have imagination, you have to play these ridges. Speed control is so vital.”
That might be the biggest adjustment for Woods coming off his two days at Chambers Bay.
He spent most of his time around the greens, trying to figure out where to bounce shots off the slopes and banks to feed toward the hole, and where not to miss. Much like a links course, he used the putter for shots as far away as 30 and 40 yards to best use the contours.
And now he’s at Muirfield Village, a classic course framed by thick rough with fast greens. Conditions are likely to be soft this week because of overcast conditions. Woods has been around for two decades, and adjusting to a different golf course, different grass, different time zones, is nothing new.
“The biggest adjustment is not to hit the putts so hard,” he said after his pro-am round. “I was practicing 40-, 50-yeard putts because that some of the shots that we’re going to have to hit out there. The greens (at Muirfield Village) are running just over 13 right now — a little different feel. Every putt I hit today, I blew past the hole.”
Hideki Matsuyama is the defending champion. Fowler is back from Royal County Down at the Irish Open where he had a good week except for an 8-8 finish to his third round. Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose are part of a strong field, along with Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.
For most of them, the U.S. Open looms.
Woods is interested in progress. Even in more predictable times, he never read too much into his performance in his final event before a major. Three years ago, he won both tournaments before the Masters (Bay Hill) and U.S. Open (Memorial) and it didn’t work out for him.
“It’s about peaking at the right time,” he said. “The main thing is I want to be able to start playing again, being in contention with a chance to win. I’d like to get there more often and give myself more opportunities to win.”
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