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Woods sees a different trend from the first major of the year. He managed his game at Bay Hill, in part because of a sloppy start by Graeme McDowell that gave Woods a cushion and allowed him to play the shots he needed to win the tournament.

“When I went into Augusta, I did not feel comfortable hitting the ball up,” Woods said. “And I got back into a lot of my old patterns. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. But that’s what made playing Muirfield so nice. I had those shots, and I was doing it the correct way. And I had compression, hitting the ball high and hitting it long. That was fun.”

Olympic is all about hitting it in the fairway, and the right spots on the green.

The golf course is longer than when Woods tied for 18th in 1998, though that isn’t the biggest change. The greens have been resurfaced, and they roll so fast that it’s difficult to get the ball close. Plus, the USGA has shaved some areas off the green to form large collection areas. A slight miss could send the ball some 30 yards away.

Woods told of the par-3 13th during a practice round in which he hit the green, and the ball rolled down a slope and just inside a hazard.

“I think this probably tests the player more than any other championship,” Woods said. “We have to shape the ball. We have to hit the ball high. We have to hit the ball low. Our short game’s got to be dialed in.”

The difference for this U.S. Open is the variety that USGA executive director Mike Davis brings to the toughest test in golf. Instead of mangled rough around the greens, he has created areas of tightly mown grass that sends errant shots down the slope and gives players options of putting, chipping, flop shots, anything to get it close.

The tees can change. The 16th measures 670 yards, though there is an option to play it 100 yards shorter.

“He throws wrinkles at you,” Woods said. “But overall, I think this is just the most demanding test that there is in golf.”

Another wrinkle was putting Woods and Mickelson together, along with Masters champion Bubba Watson, for the opening rounds. Together, they have won 113 and 18 majors, with Woods doing most of that damage.

Woods and Mickelson last played together at Pebble Beach, where Mickelson dusted him and rallied to win in February. In the majors, Mickelson topped him in the final round of the 2009 Masters (won by Angel Cabrera), though Woods beat him soundly at Torrey Pines on his way to winning the U.S. Open.

“I don’t think we’re going to talk about a lot,” Woods said. “This is a major championship. We’ve got work to do.”

Mickelson seems to have embraced the grouping. His only concern is feeling “mentally lethargic” on Thursday and Friday of PGA Tour events, though he promises that won’t be the case at the U.S. Open, where he has finished second a record five times.

Playing with Woods should cure whatever ails him.

“I get excited to play with Tiger. I love it,” he said. “I think we all do. He gets the best out of me. I think when it’s time to tee off on Thursday I’ll be ready to play. … The one player I’m most concerned about, if I play my best golf that may have a chance to beat me, is Tiger.”

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