Tiger Woods’ U.S. Open Thursday ended with 2 unusual scenes

Tiger Woods stares at the U.S. Open in a pink shirt and white hat

Tiger Woods' U.S. Open Thursday ended in surprising fashion.

Darren Riehl/GOLF

PINEHURST, N.C. — The children were not yelling, they were chanting.

But on Thursday afternoon at the U.S. Open, it seemed a chant would not nearly be enough.

TI-GER TI-GER TI-GER,” they screamed for the better part of 15 straight minutes from the practice green at Pinehurst No. 2, alternating pitch and volume based on the proximity of their subject, Tiger Woods. After an opening-round 74 at the national championship, Woods told the media he hoped to “hit a few” on the range, so long as his back didn’t tighten up on the short car ride from the 10th tee box back to the clubhouse.

His plan didn’t include an autograph session, and if you’ve been around Tiger even once at a major championship you knew he was unlikely to deviate, even given the damndest efforts of these chanting children. Woods’ eyes take on a different focus during major weeks — the kind that doesn’t leave much room for scribbling. But these kids were relentless, their resilience unmoved by the apparent disinterest of their target.

They chanted and they chanted and they chanted. And after what felt like a while, Woods stopped swinging. He turned to caddie Lance Bennett, plucked his putter from his bag and started walking.

“I’m gonna go hit a few,” he said.

The kids swelled into a crescendo as Woods pierced the ground with his putter, charging up the small hill to the practice green. In a thousand other moments like these in his major championship life, Woods has kept his eyes forward, gaze steady, attention elsewhere. But for some strange reason, that all changed on Thursday at the U.S. Open. He looked straight at the ringleader of the kids — a small boy, maybe 8 years old, with shaggy blond hair and a red-striped shirt — and marched toward him.

If you’d hoped to find a new version of Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open, Thursday’s round at Pinehurst No. 2 did little to persuade you.

Woods looked every bit the same vision of the last three months on a blazing Thursday morning in North Carolina. His ball speed was sizzling, his upper body chiseled, his move smooth and violent … and his results maddeningly inconsistent. Officially, he shot four over on Thursday, nine shots off the lead set by Patrick Cantlay (and later matched by Rory McIlroy), but unofficially it was much more frustrating. Woods had by far his best driving day of the year, hitting 12 of 14 fairways and putting himself in scoring position all morning on a day when most players found conditions surprisingly easy. Yet he finished 111th in the field in putting average (with a trio of three-putts) and lost more than two shots to the field in his approach game.

“It wasn’t as good as I’d like. I was pretty one-dimensional early in the week, which is interesting. I was drawing the ball a lot. Now I’m cutting the ball a lot,” Woods said after his round, a sarcastic smile creeping across his face. “Welcome to golf.”

And welcome to the exasperation that has defined Woods’ 2024 major season. The driver has been a problem all year, and it was great on Thursday; the irons have been great, and they were very bad; the putter was ice-cold for stretches and red-hot during others. In other words, it’s all there — just not at once.

“It’s pick your poison, right?” Woods said Thursday. “Play a lot with the potential of not playing, or not play and fight being not as sharp.”

It’s not all bad. Tiger reiterated on Thursday that his body is slowly improving, and those physical improvements are starting to poke through in his golf swing. CBS Sports lead analyst Trevor Immelman noted he hasn’t seen as much front leg force in Woods’ swing in “a long time.” On the range on Wednesday, he mashed balls for more than an hour without any visible signs of discomfort.

These aren’t the incremental improvements of a guy finding himself in serious contention every time he tees it up. But they are the incremental improvements of a guy who has spent a long time watching the thing he loves most from the sidelines. And that second part is why, if you’d hoped to find a new version of Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open, what happened after Thursday’s round was so compelling.

It started on the practice range, where Woods’ back held up well enough on the short shuttle back to the clubhouse that he hit balls for 15 minutes after his round ended — a rarity in his post-car crash life. He seemed encouraged by what he found after a few minutes of solitude with his irons and exactly one driver swing, which traveled on the same line as each of his other drivers on Thursday and elicited a one-word response: Yep.

But he seemed most intrigued by what was happening next to him, where his good buddy Justin Thomas was grinding through whatever funk left him with a seven-over 77 on Thursday. As Woods returned his clubs to his bag, Thomas’ plight was audible from a distance.

“It’s so square here,” Thomas said, frustrated and a little amused as he pointed out towards the golf course. “But out there it goes a million miles right.”

If you’ve seen Tiger in a major championship before, you know he does not spare much time for pity on struggling competitors. He has, you may have heard, a well-documented legacy of ignoring everything (and everyone) other than winning.

But for some strange reason, Thursday was different. As Thomas blasted a few more balls into the ether, Woods took a few quiet strides behind him, closely watching his movement on the downswing. He stopped Thomas after the third or fourth swing and a short conversation ensued.

The two worked together for a while and Woods offered a few tips, a mini-session that might not have been noteworthy at all were it not Thursday at the U.S. Open and were he not Tiger Woods.

He walked off after a few minutes of talking to Thomas, and he seemed pleased. His stare was less fierce now, and his gait was beginning to slow. A lengthy recovery was ahead, followed by many more hours of physical therapy before Friday’s afternoon tee time would arrive. If things broke well, he would suffer this routine three more times.

The grind was only beginning, and a putting session stood in the way.

But first it was time to see the boy in the red-striped shirt.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.

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