- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 12, 2018

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Tiger Woods returned to the U.S. Open for the first time in three years and hardly anyone noticed.

Then again, it was late Sunday afternoon. Shinnecock Hills was practically empty.

“A bizarre experience,” said Jordan Spieth, who played nine holes with him.

Such a quiet moment was rare for Woods in his celebrated return following four back surgeries. A year that began with intrigue soon gave way to hysteria over anticipation of his first victory in nearly five years.

That time has not arrived as Woods heads into the second major of the year.

“Golf is always frustrating,” Woods said Tuesday after going nine holes with Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, winners of the last two PGA Tour events. “There’s always something that isn’t quite right, and that’s where we as players have to make adjustments. You’ve seen the tournaments I’ve played this year. There’s always something. Hopefully, this is one of those weeks where I put it all together and even it out. And we’ll see what happens.”

It has been 10 years since Woods won his last U.S. Open, his 14th and last major. All it takes for him to temper any frustrations is to look back at last year, when he didn’t know if he would even play another U.S. Open.

He was at a low point in his career and his personal life. While recovering from fusion surgery — his fourth surgery on his back in three years — he was arrested on a DUI charge and found to have a mixture of two painkillers, the sleeping aid Ambien, the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and the active ingredient for marijuana in his system. He entered a clinic to get help and pleaded guilty to a reckless driving charge that kept him out of jail.

Asked about the video of his arrest and how his life has changed, Woods replied, “It’s gotten better.”

That seems like longer than a year ago because Woods has been such an active part of the PGA Tour again. In some instances, he looks like the same Woods.
He hit one drive past Johnson on the par-5 fifth hole Tuesday that left him a 2-iron to the front of the green. He had two chances to win in March, missing a long birdie putt on the last hole in Innisbrook and hitting a drive out-of-bounds on the 16th hole at Bay Hill the following week.

But no trophies. No fist pumps.

“There’s two ways of looking at that,” Woods said. “I’ve given myself chances to win, which I didn’t know if I was ever going to do again. And then again, not happy with the fact that I didn’t win because I loved how it felt being there. … And so, yeah, I’ve had my opportunities. Also, I’m very thankful to have had those opportunities. I didn’t know if I was going to have them again.”

Three years from his last U.S. Open, five years from his last victory, and so much has changed.

Johnson returned to No. 1 in the world with his six-shot victory last week at the St. Jude Classic, the 18th of his career, all since Woods won his last U.S. Open.

He replaced Justin Thomas, the PGA champion who turned 25 in April.
Woods will play with both of them when the first round begins on Thursday.

“I can see that there may be a sense of … this is the last kind of push that he needs for his career,” Day said. “But at the same time, I know that he’s still hungry. I think he’s hungry for that next win and trying to get – not the monkey off his back, because he’s done it so many times – but just coming back and competing and playing well against our generation now. And I think that’s what he’s looking forward to.”


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