Tiger Woods bringing uneven game to Aronimink

Tiger Woods struggled to a 75 in the final round of the U.S. Open after climbing into contention with a 66 the day before.
Tiger Woods struggled to a 75 in the final round of the U.S. Open after climbing into contention with a 66 the day before.
Posted: June 27, 2010

The U.S. Open exhibited the bizarre year of Tiger Woods in a microcosm.

In the third round, he sent his fans scrambling to find a television set at the dinner hour, showing glimpses of the old Tiger as he blazed his way to a 66 over the menacing Pebble Beach Golf Links and put himself in contention for a record-tying fourth U.S. Open title.

The next day, Woods delighted his detractors in the audience as he lacked what used to be his trademark closing punch, struggled to a 75, and finished 3 strokes behind Open champion Graeme McDowell.

Woods chose to accentuate the positive from his weekend at Pebble Beach, feeling his continued play is a "process" that he will keep building on as he resumes his regular playing schedule.

But there are the skeptics out there who wonder if we'll ever see the old Tiger again, if the personal issues with which he has wrestled since last November have become too much of a distraction, if injuries have begun to take a toll, if he can find a consistent swing again.

Philadelphia-area golf fans will be able to see for themselves close-up this week when the AT&T National, which benefits the world No. 1's Tiger Woods Foundation, begins its two-year run at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square.

To give you an idea of the type of year it has been for Woods, this event used to be known as the "AT&T National Hosted by Tiger Woods," but lost the last four words of the title around New Year's Eve, the time when AT&T dropped Woods as a spokesman after reports of his infidelity had been confirmed.

Still, since Woods' foundation is the chief beneficiary of the tournament, there was little doubt Woods would be here. He was a huge advocate of the tournament's moving to Aronimink from Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., which is being renovated this year and will host the U.S. Open in 2011.

This will mark Woods' sixth event of a year that did not start until the second week of April at the Masters. Curiously, his best finishes have been in majors - tied for fourth at the Masters and the U.S. Open. But he missed the cut at Quail Hollow and had to withdraw from The Players Championship with a neck injury that sidelined him for three weeks.

During this time, as he tried to sort out personal matters, he and his swing coach, Hank Haney, parted company. He also heard a comment from U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin that he would have to earn a spot on the team, that one would not be merely handed to him.

Since Pavin's statement, however, Woods has moved up to No. 7 in the Ryder Cup standings, which would ensure an automatic berth for him if the season ended today.

"I feel like I put some pieces together this week," Woods said after his final round at the Open. "It's a long process, but I've put some of it together, and I hit some shots this week that I haven't hit in a long time."

Most of Woods' fellow players think it will only be a matter of time before he puts four good rounds together and starts winning again.

"I think he's very close," said Ernie Els, who played with Woods for the first two rounds of the Open. "I think his ball-striking was pretty good. His short game is pretty sharp. He just didn't make enough putts. He's skimming the hole, [but] nothing looks out of the ordinary. He looks pretty sharp. I think it's only a matter of time."

West Chester's Sean O'Hair, an occasional practice partner of Woods, agrees.

"I know he's got a lot of turmoil off the golf course and, to be honest with you, I think it's amazing that he's played as well as he's played," O'Hair said. "I wouldn't be surprised if he won a major championship by the end of the year. I know he's going to win probably multiple times this year. It's just taking time.

"I know he's trying to get comfortable with some things. I know he's hitting it all over the yard. But his short game obviously is phenomenal and his putting is coming along. I would not expect him to be playing like this for much longer."

There also was some wonder at the Open whether Woods was having any fun on the golf course. He complained after his first round that Pebble Beach's greens were "just awful." As he finished last Sunday, he hinted at a disagreement with his caddie, Steve Williams, on two shots on the back nine.

But O'Hair and other players said that the presence of Woods continues to be a powerful boost for any tournament, and that his colleagues know how much he means to the tour.

"Tiger brings a whole other level to a tournament," he said. "With the fans, there's a lot of energy there. The world golf rankings, the whole nine yards . . . he brings it to the table.

"And we feel Tiger's a great thing. I know for a fact that I'm getting paid the dollars I'm getting paid by the PGA Tour and our sponsors because of Tiger Woods. So I would much rather Tiger be playing than not. The reason why he's overshadowing everybody is because he's better than anybody else."

The AT&T National will mark the 264th consecutive week Woods has occupied the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings. Phil Mickelson, who is not playing at Aronimink, will continue to breathe down his neck trying to wrest away the top spot, which will make for an interesting summer if Woods can keep his "process" going in a positive direction.

"I know he's working hard," O'Hair said. "It'll be nice when he starts playing well again, for everybody - for him, for the tour, for sponsors, and for us. I think Tiger succeeding is only good for other golfers."

Calling AT&T

What: AT&T National

Where: Aronimink Golf Club (7,237 yards, par 70), Newtown Square

When: Thursday through Sunday.

(Practice rounds Tuesday, pro-am Wednesday.)

Purse: $6.2 million, winner's share $1,116,000.

FedExCup points: 500 to the winner.

Television: Golf Channel on Thursday-Friday, CBS on Saturday-Sunday.

Defending champion: Tiger Woods.

Ticket information: Online at www.attnational.org or by calling 1-800-594-TIXX (800-594-8499). A limited number of daily tickets for Tuesday through Sunday remain.

Parking information: Reserved parking is available for purchase at $10 in two lots: Delaware County Community College, 901 S. Media Line Rd., Media; and Villanova University, 800 E. Lancaster Ave., Villanova.

Free parking is available at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center off Route 422 in Oaks.

Complimentary shuttle service will be provided from each of the three lots to the golf course.

Note that St. Davids Road, where the main entrance to Aronimink is located, will be closed to vehicular traffic. Detours will be posted.

Complete parking information is at www.attnational.org.

Public transportation: Fans are encouraged to take public transportation to Villanova, either on the R5 regional rail line or the Norristown high-speed line. Volunteers will be on hand to direct people to the shuttle.

For the fans: Independence Alley, which is between the ninth fairway and the 17th green, features the Philly Sports Zone, a VIP sports bar, and upgraded concession areas.

There also are concession areas and a merchandise pavilion at the main entrance.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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