2013 US Open: Why Tiger Woods' Long Friday Is Pivotal

James McMahonContributor IJune 13, 2013

ARDMORE, PA - JUNE 13:  Tiger Woods of the United States reacts to his tee shot on the 11th hole during Round One of the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club on June 13, 2013 in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Tiger Woods wasn't very good in limited action Thursday at the 2013 U.S. Open, and now faces a crucial and demanding Day 2 at Merion Golf Club.

Tiger was uneven at best and just plain bad at worst through 10 completed holes, finishing his weather-delayed day at two-over and with a short par putt left waiting on the 11th green.

That disappointing performance sets up a challenging Friday for Woods, who will essentially play 25 holes of golf in demanding conditions at Merion.

How Tiger handles his rain-induced marathon will absolutely determine whether the world No. 1 has an opportunity to even make the cut at the end of the grueling day, much less compete for his first major championship in more than five years.

After a 10-hole performance on Thursday that included four bogeys against just two birdies, Tiger will restart that sluggish round early Day 2 already trailing leader Luke Donald by six shots and facing the longest day of his career since winning the 2008 U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff on a broken leg.

At Thursday’s close, Woods was in a tie for 51st, meaning if he continues his sluggish play he will begin his second round in an absolute fight not only to stay in contention, but to stay around in competition.

Ironically, and by no means helping his cause, Woods might now be nursing yet another physical ailment. Tiger appeared to initially tweak the wrist while playing out of the rough on the fifth hole.

Injured or not, what awaits Tiger is a challenging day of championship golf that will test whether his rejuvenated game can withstand the pressures of a Merion layout that managed to hold its own Thursday with debilitating rough and extremely tight fairways that belied its soft conditions.

Assuming Woods makes a short putt for par that remains on the 11th hole, he will begin a stretch of Merion’s most difficult holes first thing on Friday at two-over and with precious little room for error. That's no easy task considering Tiger ended Thursday missing fairways with irons, three-putting for bogey and missing short putts for birdie.

In fact, given that effort, it’s difficult to imagine Woods entering Friday morning with any sort of confidence.

We are, however, talking about Tiger. Woods will have had just shy of 11 hours between the stoppage of Thursday’s play and the launch of Friday’s action to get things figured out for an enormously important day of golf.

Essentially only half the field has completed their first round, so beginning to ponder the cut line for Friday is way premature, but Tiger’s two-over mark through 10 holes definitely has him closer to the cut than contention.

What that means for Woods, who will likely end his first-round effort just an hour or so before his second round begins, is significant ground to make up in one all-important day. To be sure, that’s not a recipe for success at the U.S. Open and certainly was not in the game plan for the world No.1 heading into this week.

That said, few game plans have held to form given the crazy weather that has hit Merion, and if there is one thing Woods has shown the ability to do during his epic career, is adapt.

Tiger certainly didn't expect to play the 2008 U.S. Open on a torn ACL, yet he did just that en route to a victory at Torrey Pines, his last major championship in his career quest to best Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 career major titles.

Likewise, in the 2005 Masters, Woods not only endured a 26-hole day of golf, he excelled at it. On that Saturday at Augusta, Woods birdied 12 of the 26 holes to erase a seven-shot deficit to put himself in a position to win a fourth green jacket the following day.

From a scoring standpoint, Woods has never had a better day, and while he doesn't exactly need that high level of performance for Day 2 at Merion, he needs to equal the effort and focus he showed at Augusta that day.

That performance, just like his 2008 effort, came before the physically and mentally scarred Tiger that has failed to win a major championship in five years.

Given that, Friday becomes not only a must to remaining in contention for the 15th major he so covets, but it’s a day that will go a long way to showing whether Tiger has regained that mental resolve and competitive fire to overcome the toughest of obstacles.

And, make no mistake—it will be a difficult obstacle. Just playing 18 holes under difficult U.S. Open conditions is enough to take the best players in the world to task. Taking on 25 holes after playing the previous 11 very poorly and potentially facing a looming cut line simultaneously isn't easy at all.

Yet that’s what Tiger faces come Friday when he finishes up on 11 and begins his turn to some of Merion’s most challenging holes. From start to finish, Woods will likely log almost seven hours on the golf course assuming the weather cooperates. It will be his longest day of golf since his knee surgery five years ago, and certainly among the most stressful.

Knowing Woods, he won’t enter Friday with a number in mind for the completion of the first round, or the second for that matter. He will play shot for shot and simply look to clean up his accuracy and putting. If he does that, Tiger could very much end Day 2 in a much better spot.

If he can’t overcome the difficult day ahead, however, Woods’ 2013 U.S. Open might end sooner than anyone expected and his major championship slump will carry on.