Lofty Woods leaves lefties in his wake


112th US OPEN:THE DRESS sense of the new, modern version of the “Big Three” hinted at trouble. Tiger Woods’ grey tones were psychedelic in comparison to the gloomy all-black clothing chosen by the two left-handers, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson. Okay, so they weren’t dressed for the catwalk; but, the sombre shades seemed apposite for the penal challenge envisaged. And they were right.

It was a tough old day at the office for the lefties, with the two guilty of army golf of the left-right, left-right variety. Mickelson’s tee-shot on the ninth, his first, where the ball curved wickedly to the left and into a cypress tree, never to be seen again, proved to be the precursor for a wild day off the tee.

“I hooked it, I was trying to make sure I hooked it into a slice wind and I pulled it over into the trees and it must have stayed up there, because nobody ever saw it or heard it come down,” remarked Mickelson afterwards.

Watson mimicked him with a succession of similar shots.

Indeed, when Mickelson double-crossed a three-wood tee-shot on the par-four 14th and hit the ball into spectators lined down the right, he arrived to find the ball in trampled down rough. When informed by the spectator, good-naturedly, the ball had struck him, Mickelson – despite a start that had seen him bogey his first three holes before garnering a birdie on the 13th, his fourth hole – responded: “If you stand in the middle of the fairway you’ll be safe.”

Safe from Mickelson, perhaps. And from Watson, who was eight holes into his round before he found a fairway off the tee. But not from Woods, as he striped a variety of shots – including his favoured stinger – down fairway after fairway in manoeuvring his way into the thick of contention. Woods strutted like a man on a mission.

As Mickelson and Watson wilted, Woods – displaying all of the old focus that garnered 14 Majors, but none since his US Open win at Torrey Pines in 2008 – maintained an imposing presence.

Whilst Bubba and Phil repeatedly needed the marshals to locate balls with their tiny red flags in the rough, Woods strode confidently to his ball – more often than not on the short grass – and, apart from an overhit approach to the 14th, which led to a bogey, his play of his front 10 (the players having started on the ninth for logistical reasons) was hugely impressive.

Woods responded to the dropped shot on the 14th by getting back to level par with a birdie on the 17th (when he two-putted from the front of the green) and, having missed a three-footer for birdie on the second, finally went under-par with an eight-footer for birdie on the fourth.

On the fifth, it was time for a clenched fist salute and a shake of his head as he ran in a 35-footer downhill breaking putt for another birdie. However, the hot streak was halted when he found a greenside bunker on the sixth and failed to get up-and-down.

Watson had lost his black sweater by the time he finished, and even sneaked a peek at the club Tiger used off the tee on the finishing par-three eighth hole. It just wasn’t his day, and certainly not – as he had prophesised of the threesome – like the final day at the Masters. Not for him, anyway.

Of the “Big Three”, only Woods – with a 69 – got any satisfaction. Mickelson’s 76 and Watson’s 78 left them very much in the dark shadows of Woods.

Watson was enthralled with Woods’s play. “He played pretty good. Yeah. Tiger, that was the old Tiger. That was beautiful to watch. That’s what we all come to see. That’s what we all want to watch and that was awesome to see him strike the ball look. He made a couple bogeys but under par on this golf course is pretty good,” said the Masters champion.

Mickelson, too, was left under Woods’s spell – however reluctantly. “Tiger struck it really well. Hes playing really well. Had really solid control of his flight, trajectory, the way it occurred, it was impressive,” he said

As for Woods? He had the contented look of a man who knew his game – swing-wise and mentally – was in a good place. “I’m really excited how I was able to execute my game plan . . . this golf course is so demanding, if you’re off your game, you’re going to pay the price and it’s hard to make pars. Phil and Bubba were off just a little bit.”

He added: “This is one of those (US) Opens where it’s just really hard to make birdies. This is not like I was last year (at Congressional). This is a tough one. This is tough to make birdies. You’ve got to really grind, and for me I thought I hit the ball well and I didn’t have a whole lot of putts from ten feet or 15 feet or in. Its just hard to get the ball close.”

“I’ve always preferred the conditions to be difficult, where the ground is springy instead of soft. As far as the golf course, it’s just demanding. It does wear on you, because there’s no let up. That’s what I was explaining early in the week. Theres not one single hole where its a breather hole.”

Just the way he likes it.

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