Tiger Woods Returns To Pinehurst After 19 Years. It’s Not The Same, Neither Is He

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — This is not the same Pinehurst No. 2 that Tiger Woods saw 19 years ago when he walked away with a runner-up finish in the U.S. Open, his last time on the property.

It’s not the same Tiger Woods, either.

Woods has never gone this long without seeing a major championship course he had played before. He showed up a week ago Tuesday for his first look, and was back on the weekend to get reacquainted with a course that has gone through an extensive restoration first on display in the 2014 U.S. Open. Woods missed that one recovering from the first of four back surgeries.

What hasn’t changed is the nature of the U.S. Open.

“This golf course is going to test every single aspect of your game, especially mentally, and just the mental discipline that it takes to play this particular golf course. It’s going to take a lot,” he said Tuesday after a third straight day of playing nine holes.

This is his first U.S. Open since Winged Foot in 2020.

He has practiced. He has chipped and putted. Woods just doesn’t play very much, courtesy of a 48-year-old body wracked by injuries — five back surgeries, four knee surgeries, and those were before his February 2021 car crash in Los Angeles that shattered his right leg and ankle.

This will be only his 10th tournament since that accident, and it’s the first time since 2020 that he has played three straight majors. And so it’s a matter of needing more repetition, and more competition, but not having a body that allows for that.

What to expect this week?

“I feel like I have the strength to be able to do it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of doing it.”

It’s not as though he has nothing else going on outside golf. Woods has been active in PGA Tour discussions as it tries to put the golf landscape back together with the arrival of LIV Golf.

He was in New York on Friday as the vice chairman of PGA Tour Enterprises, which met with representatives of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to discuss a PIF investment and what that will mean for all of golf.

He described it, as Rory McIlroy did last week, as “positive” without detail or any indication on whether it’s close to getting resolved.

“I think we’re closer to that point than we were pre-meeting,” he said, which is like saying he’s closer to the green than before he hit a tee shot. “We discussed a lot of different endings and how we get there. I think that both sides walked away from the meeting, we all felt very positive in that meeting.

“Both sides were looking at different ways to get to the endgame. I think that both sides shared a deep passion for how we need to get there.”

Woods spent Tuesday morning with Max Homa and Min Woo Lee, with 15-year-old son Charlie along for the ride. More than just a spectator, Woods said Charlie knows his game as well as anyone and can serve as an extra set of eyes.

“I trust him with my swing and my game. He’s seen it more than anybody else in the world. He’s seen me hit more golf balls than anyone,” Woods said. “He gave me a couple little side bits today, which was great, because I get so entrenched in hitting certain putts to certain pins, I tend to forget some of the things I’m working on.”

Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore spearheaded the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2, perhaps the most famous of all Donald Ross courses, ahead of the 2014 U.S. Open. Rough was replaced by native sandy areas and hundreds of native plants, the most treacherous being wire brush that dots the landscape. That wasn’t a big change for Woods because it hasn’t affected where to hit it.

The more subtle change for this year is the greens going from bent grass to a strain of Bermuda grass, which could make the turtleback surfaces even tougher in severe heat expected on the weekend.

“Nothing can simulate what we have here this particular week, the amount of little shots and the knobs and runoffs, and either using wedges or long irons or woods around the greens or even putter,” Woods said. “There’s so many different shots that you really can’t simulate unless you get on the property. That’s one of the reasons I came up here last Tuesday, to be able to try and do that. Quite a bit of work. The golf course has firmed up and gotten faster since then.”

For Woods, the first step is making the weekend. He set the record at the Masters by making his 24th consecutive cut, but then missed the cut badly at the PGA Championship.

It’s never been about cuts for Woods. That seems to be the case now because winning for the first time since the fall of 2020 in Japan seems further out of reach. He now has gone 11 consecutive tournaments that he finished without finishing closer than 10 shots of the winner.