Tiger Woods is hoping to find the missing piece of the jigsaw at Shinnecock Hills to claim a first win since his latest comeback and end a 10-year victory drought in the majors.
Woods won the last of his 14 major titles at the 2008 US Open but has not played in the event since 2015, when he shot rounds of 80 and 76 at Chambers Bay.
The 42-year-old played just four times in the following two seasons due to a career-threatening back injury and off-course problems, but underwent spinal fusion surgery in April 2017 and has missed just one cut in nine events in 2018.
Chances to win his 80th PGA Tour title have so far gone begging, but Woods knows he is fortunate to simply be competing at the highest level again given the amount of knee and back injuries he has suffered in recent years.
“I had no expectation to think I could actually be here again,” Woods said.
“This time last year I was just given the okay to start walking again.
“A lot of this is a pure bonus because of where I was. To be here is a great feeling and one I don’t take for granted.
“I have given myself chances to win which I did not know I was ever going to do again, but also I’m not happy with the fact that I didn’t win.
“I had a chance at Valspar [finishing one behind Paul Casey], at Bay Hill I was rolling with a few holes to go [until driving out of bounds on the 70th hole].
“Golf is always frustrating. There’s always something that is not quite right and that’s why we have to make adjustments.
“Of the tournaments I’ve played in this year there’s been something missing; hopefully this is one of those weeks where I put it all together and we’ll see what happens.”
Woods is one of 20 players in the field who also contested the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock Hills, when playing conditions meant 28 of the 66 players amazingly failed to break 80 in a final round which had to be halted in order to water the seventh green.
He also competed here in 1995 but said: “It has changed a lot from the two times I played it previously. It’s a lot longer, the fairways seem to be twice as wide. It’s a very different test.
“The greens are not quite up to speed but they are right where they want them to be and as it dries out it’s going to be another great US Open test.”
Another test could be the heavy traffic getting into the course, with Woods feeling one of his fellow competitors could even miss their scheduled tee time. But Woods himself will not have any such issues after docking his multi-million dollar yacht at nearby Sag Harbor.
Woods joked: “Staying on the dinghy helps.”
Some journeys from official hotels west of the course have been taking up to two and a half hours and Woods added: “There’s a good chance someone might miss their time.
“You get a little traffic or a fender bender and it’s conceivable.”
Woods slammed the door shut on questions about his private life as he prepared for Thursday’s first round.
Barely a year after being arrested asleep at the wheel of his car in Florida, with five drugs in his system, a bright-eyed Woods cut a much different figure as he faced the media for a 25-minute press conference at Shinnecock Hills.
Talking expansively about the course, his recent putting woes and the opportunities he has missed this year to end his victory drought, he suddenly turned economical with his words when the dark days of mid-2017 were raised.
Asked how his life had improved in the ensuing year, Woods curtly dismissed the question in just three words.
“It’s gotten better,” he said, making clear again that his new media and fan-friendly persona goes only so far.
He said that he watched last year’s US Open on television, before he had been given the all-clear even to start practising after his April spinal fusion, not even sure he would be able to play again, let alone return to major championships.
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