Tiger Woods, his 15th major secured at the Masters, is on the rise again heading into the US Open at Pebble Beach, scene of one of the US superstar's most dominant triumphs.
“My game is right where I feel like it needs to be,” Woods said after firing a final-round 67 at the Memorial on Sunday.
“Each day I got a little more crisp,” said Woods, who was out of the running for a sixth Memorial title heading into Sunday, but lit up the front nine with five birdies at Muirfield Village before coming home in even par to sneak into the top 10 — albeit 10 shots behind winner Patrick Cantlay.
“I was hoping I could get something positive going into the Open and I was able to accomplish that,” said Woods, who opted not to play between his Masters victory and the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black where he missed the cut.
There's no doubt that Woods will be better prepared for the 119th US Open, which tees off on June 13 on the iconic California coastal course where he won by a record 15 strokes in 2000.
“I drove it great,” Woods said of his week at Memorial, and that will be a key factor on the tight fairways at Pebble Beach. If he can tidy up a few things -- he twice caught the lip of fairway bunkers and twice came away with bogeys at Muirfield's 14th despite having wedges in his hand -- Woods was optimistic he could contend.
“Those are loose things you can't afford to have happen in an Open,” he said. “If I can clean those up, I should be all right.”
'Greatest iron player'
Iron play remains a strength for the 43-year-old Woods, who led the Masters field in greens in regulation.
“He always was the greatest iron player in the world,” said 43-year-old US tour veteran Ryan Armour, who played alongside Woods in the third round last week. “But now he's hitting, like, controlled drivers and controlled three-woods.
“It's not lash at it and try and hit it as far as you can. I think he kind of checked that ego a little bit.”
And added Armour: “All you've got to do is get him in the fairway and as good as his game is, he's going to play well.”
Woods found 42 of 56 fairways at the Memorial, including 12 of 14 in the final round, a big improvement on his three of 14 fairways hit in the second round at Bethpage.
Woods, who tied for fourth in the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach won by Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, last competed on the course at the PGA Tour's National Pro-Am.
After getting in some practice at Pebble prior to Memorial, Woods was looking forward to a “nice practice week” at home before tackling the third major of the year, cognizant, as always now, of the limitations of his body.
“I feel a lot better,” said Woods, who says he must worry as much now about maintaining his fitness and keeping his fused spine in shape as he does about his game.
“That's going to be the trick going forward. I'll never be able to play as much as I used to,” Woods said.
“And just trying to balance that and being prepared and sharp ... trying to figure out the playing schedule, trying to get a good balance of that and being prepared and also taking care of the body -- it's new,” added Woods, noting that with the PGA Championship moved from August to May he wasn't the only player having to figure out how to be sharp for the most important weeks on the calendar.
Brooks Koepka, who will be going for a third straight US Open title and a second straight major after his PGA Championship victory at Bethpage, certainly seems to have the knack of peaking at the right time.
Dustin Johnson has two runner-up finishes in the year's first two majors and figures to be a threat again.
Woods says he won't expend any energy sizing up the competition.
“I've got enough problems that I need to worry about in my game and trying to shoot the scores and numbers that I need to shoot to try to win the championship,” he said. “My responsibility is to try to get myself there.”
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