Tiger Woods has a creative way of beating the traffic snarl that lines the route to Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, site of the 2018 U.S. Open.
The superstar golfer is staying nearby on Privacy, his $20-millon yacht that has 6,500 square feet of living space, a theater, an elevator, and is capable of crossing the Atlantic. He’s anchored in Sag Harbor.
“Staying on the dinghy helps,” Woods said with a smile Tuesday during his standing-room-only news conference in advance of the storied tournament, which begins Thursday.
The host hotel is only 14 miles from the course, but the Sunrise Highway congestion can get so bad that it took some players half the morning to make the trek — and that’s two days from the official start of play.
“There are a few guys so far this week have said it’s taken them from the hotel 2½ to 3 hours,” Woods said. “There’s a good chance that someone might miss their time. You get a little traffic, you get maybe a little fender bender, it’s not inconceivable someone could miss their time.”
Not so long ago, it seemed Woods’ time had come and gone. His career was lost at sea, dragged down by a slew of personal and health problems that included four back surgeries, the last a spinal fusion in April 2017.
When he played in the Masters two months ago, it was his first major championship since 2015. So even though he’s sure to draw the biggest crowd this week, and he’s looking to win his 15th major championship — his last such victory coming in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines — this all feels like icing to him.
When last year’s U.S. Open was taking place, he had just been cleared to start taking longer walks again and had yet to resume lifting weights.
“It was about just having my standard of life,” he said. “Forget golf. Can I actually participate in my kids’ lives again? That’s something that I had missed for a few years, and that was the main goal of it …
“So to go from there to where I’m at now, I had no expectation of getting this far. A lot of this is pure bonus because of where I was. To be able to have this opportunity to play [U.S. Golf Assn.] 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.”
His is among the most compelling story lines of this 118th U.S. Open, the fifth at Shinnecock Hills. Also at center stage is Phil Mickelson, who needs a U.S. Open victory to complete a career Grand Slam. He has finished second in this tournament a record six times, including in 2004 at Shinnecock when he was runner-up to Retief Goosen.
“Certainly, the way I’ve been playing this year and at the consistency level, as well as at a much higher level than I’ve played the last few years, gives me a great opportunity,” Mickelson said this week.
“But the last thing I’m thinking about right now is trying to win. I’m trying to get myself in position for the weekend because when you try to go out and win a U.S. Open, you will lose it quick.”
Few competitors, if any, are questioning Woods, who has two top-five finishes in nine starts this season.
“I think he’s playing good enough golf to win a tournament at any point in time,” said Jordan Spieth, who won last year’s British Open and finished third at this year’s Masters. “Nobody would ever count out probably the most clutch putter and short-game player of all time, and then he’s obviously striking the ball extremely well, the rounds I’ve played with him. Just played with him a couple of evenings ago.
“He’s hitting the driver long and straight, working it both ways. It’s a matter of time, in my opinion. Still, to win again you’ve got to have the right things go your way at the right times. No matter — he’s won with ‘C’ games before, but that was kind of an anomaly.”
This much we know: Woods’ sea game is on point.
Where: Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (7,445 yards, Par 70), Southampton, N.Y.
TV: Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. PDT (FS1), 1-5 p.m. (Ch. 11); Friday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. (FS1), 1- 5 p.m. (Ch. 11); Saturday- Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Ch. 11).
2017 champion: Brooks Koepka.
Tiger Woods factor: Playing the U.S. Open for the first time since 2015. Has not finished closer than three shots of the lead in a major since his last major championship, in the U.S. Open, 10 years ago at Torrey Pines.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer