Tiger Woods has not won a major since his one-legged US Open victory at Torry Pines in 2008. But he will win his 15th major at Olympic Club this week.
Woods is coming off of his second win of the year at the Memorial two weeks ago, and he looks to be in great form for the US Open after Jack’s tournament.
His ball-striking was the best it's been in a long time, and it allowed him to come away with victory despite a pedestrian performance around the green, according to his caddy Joe LaCava. Via Bob Harig of ESPN.com:
"Not that he putted bad, but if he would have made anything he would have won by six shots,'' LaCava said. “That’s how good he hit the ball. He played so well tee to green.''
Woods will need to be on that same level with his driver and irons this week if he hopes to have a shot at victory on Sunday.
But his putting will also have to take a step forward. At the US Open, being able to get up and down and save a stroke here and there is paramount, and Woods' short game will have to be more like the Tiger of old than the one we’ve seen lately.
Despite his struggles over the last few years, Woods should still be the favorite heading into the tournament. So, let’s take a look at a round-by-round projection of his final total daily scores for the week.
First Round (1-under par)
Historically, Woods has started slow in majors. He just looks to feel out the course on Day 1 and always seems to get into the clubhouse at around even par.
Woods will be teeing off early on Thursday, at 7:33 a.m. pacific time, alongside Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson on hole No. 9.
This tee time and starting placement should prove advantageous to Woods and could help him get off to a quick start.
Teeing off this early in the morning means the greens will still have moisture on them and should be softer and more receptive to aggressive iron plays. Starting off at 7:33 local time also means that Woods and his star-studded group should miss the strongest winds of the day in the afternoon and enjoy playing with a nice breeze in their first round of competition.
Starting off on hole No. 9, instead of teeing off of No. 1 is also an advantage, because at the Olympic Club, the first six holes of the course are extremely difficult. From Michael Buteau of bloomberg.com:
“It’s going to be a hell of a test,” Woods said shortly after winning his fifth Memorial Tournament title two weeks ago. Woods called the opening stretch at the Olympic Club, in San Francisco, the hardest holes “ever to start off a golf tournament.”
But, Woods will be starting off on the much easier second half of the course. If he can get off to a quick start, his momentum may be able to carry him through the insane test that is the first six holes.
Expect to see Woods' name within the top 20 spots of the leaderboard after day one, as he shoots a sold 1-under par round.
Second Round (even par)
For the same reason that Woods could have an easy time on Thursday, he could be in for a difficult test on Friday.
Instead of the early morning start off of hole No. 9 he got on Thursday, he will be beginning the day on hole No. 1 on Friday afternoon.
This will be a very difficult round for Woods.
He will start out in the windiest part of the day, with projected 20 mile-an-hour gusts, on perhaps the toughest six-hole stretch in golf. Tiger would do well to come off of the front nine at 1- or 2-over par.
The second round will be a battle throughout. He will have to deal with high wind gusts and dried out fairways and greens. But that's what the US Open is about: working through difficult conditions and battling to stay near the leaderboard when you’re not at your best.
Woods has the experience to avoid cracking under the difficulty of the front nine. While I do project him to take a slight step back in the second round by shooting 1-over par, he will still be in the middle of contention, at even par, heading into the weekend.
Third Round (3-under)
At major tournaments, the third round is moving day.
Saturday is when the real contenders step forward and shoot their best rounds, while the pretenders quickly fall away under the pressure.
Historically, Woods has been one of the best in the world on moving day and always seems to have his best round on Saturdays in majors.
This will be the case once again at the US Open this weekend. Woods will be right in the middle of contention heading into the third round, and will smell blood. The course will be difficult, but Woods will find a way to head into the final round at the top of the leaderboard.
Being in first heading into the final round is more important for Tiger than many would think, thanks to a little known fact.
Woods has never come from behind in the final round of a major to win.
Yep, that's right, one of the greatest players in the history of gold has yet to come from behind to win golf’s biggest prize. In all 14 of Woods' major victories, he has led entering the final round, which is why a stellar third round is of the utmost importance.
I expect Woods to have a great Saturday and to be sitting atop of the leaderboard heading into Sunday, shooting 3-under par in the third round.
Final Round (4-under)
Sundays at a major are the toughest tests in golf. The pressure is almost so great that you can feel the angst of the players coming out of the television.
But Tiger has dealt with more pressure and scrutiny than any player in the world, and he should be able to thrive on Sunday.
Woods hasn't won a major tournament since 2008, and he will be totally focused on Sunday as he closes in on his goal. Major titles are how Woods measures himself, and the fact that he's been stuck on 14 for the last four years has to be eating away at him.
I expect Woods to come out and masterfully work his way around the Olympic course. He will avoid trouble and shoot one of the very few under-par rounds of the day, as the golfers near him at the top of the leaderboard crack under the pressure of the moment and the difficulty of the course.
There will be very few players under par by the time Sunday rolls around, and even fewer will finish there. Woods will be one of them.
When his final round is completed on Sunday, I expect his four-round total to be at 4-under par, which will be enough to propel him to his 15th major title.