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Tiger Woods: ‘You don’t win major championships by slapping all around the place and missing putts’

Golfers needed near-perfection to finish under par at Shinnecock Hills

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — It was only fitting that Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson led a small entourage walking off the ninth tee and up the fairway for their final hole together Friday in the second round of the U.S. Open. The most dominant player of his era alongside today’s best golfer in the world, being showered with so much love by so many people that the atmosphere resembled more a Sunday afternoon final grouping than a Friday morning second round.

Johnson, No. 1 in the world rankings, shot 3 under that had him atop the leaderboard.

He’ll play on.

Woods, playing his first U.S. Open tournament in three years, shot a 2-over 72, giving him a plus-10 over the first two rounds. Birdies on his two closing holes briefly kept his hopes of playing into the weekend alive, but by late afternoon if was clear Woods and his 155-foot yacht were free to sail home.

His U.S. Open, after two days, was over.

“I’m not very happy the way I played and the way I putted,” Woods said after his round. “I’m 10 over par. I don’t think you can be too happy and too excited about 10 over par.”

But Woods’ high number over the first two days of the U.S. Open was more about the way Shinnecock Hills played than about the 14-time major champion coming here and completely hacking around the golf course.

The headlines about Woods blared “Bombs in U.S. Open Disaster” and “Woods gets off to disastrous start,” but his two-day performance was not completely on him. Not when big names like Jordan Spieth (plus-9), Rory McIlroy (plus-10), Bubba Watson (plus-11), Jason Day (plus-12), Sergio Garcia (plus-14) and Keegan Bradley (plus-15) were among the large group of former major champions who missed the cut.

Harold Varner, playing in his second major, finished the tournament at plus-14.

Think about it: In this major tournament bringing together the best players in the world, just four put together rounds under par on Thursday.

Four.

The players didn’t lose.

The famed course, Shinnecock Hills, with an assist from the difficult layout of the USGA, won.

Shinnecock Hills claimed victory with swirling winds, hard-to-reach pin placements and rainy weather on Friday morning that made low scores during that time nearly impossible.

You needed near-perfection to finish under par.

That’s what Johnson did.

Woods was basically done in by the way he played one hole across two days, the wide-open No. 1, a mostly straight 399-yarder that happens to be one of the easiest holes on the course.

On Thursday he hit the fairway on his first shot, went down a hill after flying the green on his second and watched his third shot hit the top of the hill before rolling back to him.

Triple-bogey.

On No. 1 on Friday — his 10th hole of the day, after playing even-par on the back nine — Woods ran into trouble after hitting his second shot in the deep rough. He finished the hole with a double-bogey for the day, five over for the two days, which is really the difference between him playing the weekend or not.

Give Woods credit: He made no excuses about the difficulty of the course or any of the U.S. Open courses that he’s played over the years. He’s won three U.S. Opens, the most recent in 2008.

“I think they’re all hard,” Woods said when asked about the course difficulty. “I’ve won a few over my career, and they’re the hardest fields and usually the hardest setups. You don’t win major championships by slapping all around the place and missing putts. You have to be on.”

The game has changed since Woods won his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, completing the era of his dominance. In the 39 majors played since that last major win by Woods, 30 different players have walked away champions. Patrick Reed’s win in the Masters earlier this year made him the ninth different player to win a title in the last nine majors.

That’s just to say that Woods, who has had four surgeries on his spine since 2014, will just have to be patient. The days where a single player dominates in golf is over. It’s the same obstacle facing Serena Williams who, as she works her way back from having a baby, enters a competitive landscape where other players have had a taste of winning.

Neither Woods, 42, nor Williams, 36, will ever again dominate their respective sports. That level of intimidation is gone, forever, with the younger players today no longer tormented by the legends.

But Woods has his body right.

He has his mind right.

And one day, during a four-day stretch, he’ll put all his mechanics together to move closer to Jack Nicklaus and his 18 major wins.

“Our whole careers are pretty much measured as ‘if you can win four times a year,’ ” Woods told reporters Friday.

Asked if he still could, he was confident in his reply.

“Absolutely.”

When pressed why he felt that way:

“Have you seen the way I’ve been swinging?,” said Woods, who hit 79 percent of his fairways in the second round.

That swing, on his last hole of this tournament, resulted in a drive to the right center of the fairway, leading to that walk alongside Johnson. The approach by Woods caught the green, setting up his birdie putt from 20-feet.

The crowd roared for Woods on his closing Friday round.

Before his career’s over, Woods will again hear that roar on a final putt in a final group on the last day of a major.

It’s just a matter of time.

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.