The No. 1 hole at Shinnecock Hills is pretty straightforward, a 399-yard par four that, through the first two days of the U.S. Open, ranks as the fourth-easiest hole on the course.
But for Tiger Woods, it was hell.
A day after taking a triple bogey on that opening hole, Woods carded a double on it Friday, setting the tone for his two-over-par 72 that left him 10 over for two days. Playing in his first U.S. Open since 2015, he failed to make the cut.
On Friday, he hit an iron off the tee down the right side, then mishit his second shot into the deep grass. His next shot landed on the green, but the ball rolled off the back and down a slope. He punched past the hole, then came up short on a mid-range comeback putt for bogey.
Woods hit 11 of 14 fairways Friday and half the greens in regulation. He was particularly disappointed with his putting.
“I’m hitting it just fine,” he said. “I have not made any putts and then, importantly, I haven’t made those key ones to keep the momentum going. Or if I have the positive momentum, I miss a putt and derail it. I just haven’t made those key putts in the last few events.”
This U.S. Open was a reminder to Woods about how difficult these major championships are, and how remarkable it is he collected 14 such victories earlier in his career.
“They’re not easy,” he said. “I mean, I’ve won a few of them over the course of my career, and they’re the hardest fields and usually the hardest setups. So they’re meant to be testers. … You don’t win major championships by kind of slapping around all over the place and missing putts. You have to be on.”
Rough and tough
The tall grass at Shinnecock is difficult enough. But when it’s wet, it can latch on to clubs like tentacles. Spectators caught a glimpse of that Friday when Russell Henley struggled to hack his way out on the third hole, taking a triple bogey.
“Maybe I should have practiced that shot more, just chipping out in the practice rounds,” said Henley, who was tied for the lead after the first round but dropped into a tie for eighth at plus-two after the second day. “I would have much rather been plugged in a bunker or anywhere else. I feel like, if I would have hit it 20 more yards off line I probably would have been OK. But if you hit it just off the fairway, it’s not very good.”
Weekend warrior at last
The low amateur through two rounds is Will Grimmer, a rising senior at Ohio State. He’s at five over after shooting a two-over 72 Friday, putting him safely under the cut line.
“Going into this week, my goal was to make the cut and play all four days,” said Grimmer, who shot a 77 and 80 at Pinehurst as a wide-eyed 17-year-old in 2014. “Now I have, so I’m going to get to play the full tournament. Now it’s a totally different experience. I have played in a U.S. Open before, but I was completely out of contention and I didn’t make the cut. My tournament was done by Friday.
“So it’s going to be a totally different feeling playing in the biggest tournament in the country, the U.S. Open, Saturday and Sunday. The crowds are going to be bigger. The pins are going to be tougher, the greens are going to be firmer and faster. It’s going to be a totally different ballgame.”
Among the feel-good stories of this major is Matt Parziale, the firefighter from Brockton, Mass., who qualified as an amateur. He shot a 73 Friday, a stroke better than his first round, to make the cut at seven over.
Parziale tried to scratch out a living as a touring pro after college but gave up on that dream after a few years. He returned to Brockton — hometown of legendary boxers Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler — and got a job in the same firehouse where his father worked for 30 years. His dad is now his caddie.
He regained his amateur status, won the U.S. Mid-Amateur last fall, and played at the Masters this year, although he shot 81-79 and failed to make the cut. He’s the first Mid-Am champion to make the cut at the U.S. Open in 15 years. It was a birdie putt on 18 that put him in safe position at seven under.
“When I hit it, I knew I had good pace on it,” Parziale said. “Maybe a little soft, and it just fell over the edge. I knew it was a good line.”
The USGA has changed its playoff format for its open championships. Out is the 18-hole playoff, and in is a two-hole aggregate playoff followed by sudden death if no one has broken the tie.
For the most part, the players understand the decision. The British Open uses a four-hole playoff, and the PGA Championship uses three holes to break a tie. For PGA Tour events, it’s sudden death.
“I understand it because everyone wants to see a result on Sunday,” Woods said. “It's pretty interesting. We've got a sudden death, we've got a two-hole, three-hole and four-hole playoffs. It's all about just ending it on Sunday night.”
Rory McIlroy called the decision to go to two holes “80% positive and 20% negative,” because, yes, the tournament is wrapped up on a Sunday, but he feels he has a better chance of beating an opponent over 18 holes than two.
“But if I get myself into a playoff and it’s two holes and I end up coming out on top,” he said, “I’ll be all for it.”