Tiger Woods is the hottest golfer in the world once again, but there are still some holes in his game heading into the U.S. Open.
A quick review of Wood's recent winning ways paints a picture of a man well on his way back to breaking all the sport's biggest records—including Jack Nicklaus' 18 major championships.
Woods has entered six PGA Tour stroke-play tournaments this year and has won four of those six, including his impressive Players Championship victory at TPC Sawgrass—an event he hadn't won since 2001.
He's leading the Fed-Ex Cup standings and the PGA Tour money list.
The way he's been dominating this season, it feels almost like the Woods of old, but there's something missing: Tiger hasn't won a major championship since 2008. In fact, his last major victory came five years ago in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
The East Course at Merion Golf Club has hosted the U.S. Open four times prior to this year's event.
It's one of the top courses on the planet, and though not particularly long (under 7,000 yards) it will test every ounce of skill, grit and patience the world's best golfers have to offer.
Here's what Woods must do in order to finally break his five-year major title drought.
Hit Fairways, Even if it Means Sacrificing Distance
Like the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, the East Course at Merion looks innocent but is treacherous. Birdies are certainly doable, but it's just as "easy" to score a double bogey on any given hole.
Woods wisely chose to ditch his driver in favor of his fairway woods and irons off the tee at the Players, and he won the tournament.
He had just one bad day out of four off the tee, and his fairways-hit percentage was 67.86—much higher than his seasonal average, which is now 57.74 percent after factoring his excellent showing at the Players.
Woods sacrificed distance off the tee by choosing irons and woods off the tee, coming in at 288.4 yards per tee shot—well under his yearly average, which is now at 294 yards.
Thankfully, Merion's lack of length lends itself well to a similar strategy, and if Woods can hit the fairways on a consistent basis he'll have a shot at finally winning major championship No. 15.
The par-three holes at Merion are incredibly challenging.
Three of the four are over 225 yards, while the other is a tiny 115-yard hole that features a massive bunker in front and bunkers behind and to the left. The green is a small, sloping target that will frustrate the field to no end.
The golfers who can somehow squeeze a few birdies out of these difficult holes will inevitably find their way to the top of the leaderboard.
Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily bode well for Woods, who shot one-over par on the par-threes at TPC Sawgrass in early May.
Woods' iron play must be stellar at Merion for him to emerge as the winner, as taking advantage of the par-threes will be a big key to winning this major championship.
Figure Out His Wedges
If there's one aspect of Woods' game that has really bothered him at this point in the season, it's his wedge play.
Short shots are usually golfers' bread and butter.
Most players are adept at knocking it stiff from 75 yards and in, but Woods is missing his mark far too often when he sets himself up with shorter wedge shots.
Thus far in 2013, here's how his wedge shots are faring, along with his PGA Tour rank in these categories:
|Type of Shot||Distance to Pin||PGA rank|
|Approach Shots from 50-75 Yards||13' 1"||72nd|
|Approach Shots from 75-100 Yards||17' 6"||105th|
Clearly, Woods has some work left to do in order to dial in his distance control in order to knock more of these short shots stiff. Should he struggle to maximize his scoring opportunities, Woods will also struggle to win the U.S.Open.
Note: All stats courtesy of PGATour.com.
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