ARDMORE, Pennsylvania: World number one Tiger Woods will try to snap a five-year major win drought starting Thursday in the US Open at Merion, where muddy conditions could play havoc with shotmaking.
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has taken four titles this year for a total of 78 career PGA triumphs, four shy of the late Sam Snead’s all-time record.
But the 37-year-old American has not won a major since the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, where he limped through a playoff on a broken leg to defeat Rocco Mediate and capture his third US Open crown after wins in 2000 and 2002.
It’s the best form Woods has shown entering a US Open in years and comes at a 6,996-yard layout that has been drenched by rain but remains the site where such icons as Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan have produced historic triumphs.
Woods would like to join that list.
“Anyone who wins this week certainly will be a part of history,” Woods said.
“It would be nice. We’ve got a long way to go. We’re two days away from the start. I would like to obviously put my name there at the end of the week, but I’ve got to do my work and put myself there.”
Hogan’s victory at Merion in 1950 was in a comeback event after a car accident that damaged his legs and nearly killed him. Hogan played 36 holes in one day to finish regulation, then won an 18-hole playoff on the final day.
“Knowing the fact that he went through the accident and then came out here and played 36 and won on 18, that’s awfully impressive,” said Woods, whose own injury-hampered 2008 victory evoked comparisons of Hogan’s feat.
Adding to the drama is a Thursday and Friday pairing for Woods alongside his nearest rankings rivals, world number two Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Australian Adam Scott, who won his first major in April at the Masters.
“It will be fantastic,” Woods said. “I was part of that the first time they did it in’08 and it was very electric out there.
“We don’t get those types of pairings very often. When you do it just makes it that much more enjoyable for us as players.”
But enjoyment is rarely on offer at a US Open, known as one of the most grueling events in golf for dense rough, lightning-fast greens and difficult challenges that test shotmaking skill, creativity and patience.
This week, heavy rains have dampened the course, slowing the greens and removing some of the danger. But another problem is brought into the picture, the nagging possibility of mud clinging to balls and foiling shot attempts.
“We’re going to have situations where, if it does dry out through the weekend, and we hit a few good drives down there and get a few mud balls we’re going to have to deal with it,” Woods said. “It’s part of the game.
“The good news is that most of these holes that we’re going to have potential mud balls on, we’re going to have short irons in. You can get the ball on a little easier with a short iron.”
Woods dismissed the notion he carries a larger responsibility as the main attraction in golf when asked about his starring role and greater legacy.
“I just enter events to win and that’s it, whether there’s a lot of people following or there’s nobody out there,” Woods said. “That’s why I played as a junior, all the way through to now is just to try to kick everyone’s butt.
“That to me is the rush. That’s the fun. That’s the thrill.”