SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The rain had mostly relented by 5 p.m. Wednesday afternoon at Shinnecock Hills.
Fans were still scattered around the grounds and a handful of golfers were trying to squeeze out a few final practice holes on the eve of the U.S. Open.
Tiger Woods was not among them.
Woods was scheduled to tee off shortly after 7 a.m. but never showed up. The rain was rather heavy by mid-morning and Woods presumably didn’t feel like stopping and starting should the weather interrupt play.
He finally emerged and engaged in a brief practice session around 3 p.m. before heading out, and the wait was just about over.
“I’ve missed playing in the U.S. Open. It’s our nation’s title and it’s meant so much to me and my career,” Woods said. “I’m looking forward to playing this week. I’ve really missed playing U.S. Opens, and this will be another fun test.”
Theee nine-hole practice rounds early in the week will serve as the bulk of his preparation ahead of Thursday’s 1:47 p.m. tee time with Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, guys he watched from the couch last year when he wasn’t sure he’d ever have the chance to join them on another first tee.
“To go from there to where I’m at now, I had no expectation of getting this far,” Woods said. “A lot of this is pure bonus because of where I was. To be able to have this opportunity to play USGA events, to play against these guys, best players in the world, it’s just a great feeling and one that I don’t take for granted.”
It’s been 10 years since Woods last won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, his place atop the world rankings long gone. No. 1-ranked Johnson and No. 2-ranked Thomas have taken over instead.
Johnson wows everyone with his combination of length off the tee and steady iron play. It’s hard to pick against him most weeks, especially coming off that six-shot win in Memphis. The 2016 U.S. Open champ in the prime of his career at age 33 and hoping to bag his second career major this week.
Which is why it’s so absolutely insane to realize that at age 32, younger than Johnson is now, Woods had already won 14 majors. Equally stunning is the fact that he hasn’t won another major since.
“I don’t like that feeling,” Wood said. “I’ve certainly had a nice run where I’ve won a few. Unfortunately, over the last 10 years, I haven’t. But for the first few years of my career, I did well.”
Woods’ career is in a much different place at Shinnecock. This comeback that no one saw coming doesn’t feel so new anymore. This will be his 10th start of the season, about half the number of tournaments he used to play in his younger, healthier days.
The first half yielded plenty of promise, with the runner-up at Valspar and T-5 at Bay Hill and a ridiculously good weekend en route to a T-11 at the Players Championship. Each start yielded so much enthusiasm, so much curiosity and appreciation from the fans just thrilled to see him swinging freely in the flesh.
The enthusiasm hasn’t worn off. If anything, it’s much greater because he’s capable of winning again. He was so close at the Valspar, when the comeback was still in its infancy stage, and Woods has proved plenty in the first half of the season.
“I’ve given myself chances to win, which I didn’t know if I was ever going to do again,” Woods said. “And also, then again, not happy with the fact that I didn’t win because I loved how it felt being there.”
The second half of the seasons starts Thursday at Shinnecock, as Woods looks to take the next giant step and do the unthinkable once again.