Tiger’s left elbow battles into contention
By Stephanie Wei under US Open
Tiger's elbow played a leading role

Tiger’s elbow played a painful role

It wasn’t pretty, nor was it easy — it’s the U.S. Open, after all — but despite an elbow injury, which was originally thought to be his wrist, Tiger Woods dug deep to shoot an even par 70, three-over 36-hole total, trailing clubhouse leader Billy Horschel by four strokes.

In Thursday’s rain-delayed first round, Tiger looked like he injured himself after hitting a shot in Merion’s extremely penal and thick rough. Turns out it’s been nagging him since last month’s Players Championship, which Woods won for the second time in his career. (You know, that same tournament where he was paired with Sergio Garcia that reignited all the drama.)

Asked how he hurt his left elbow — which I can’t believe isn’t a meme yet — Woods replied snippily, “Playing golf.”

Two weeks ago at The Memorial Tournament, he didn’t show any indication of pain. Nor at The Players. Clearly, he aggravated it on Thursday and obviously it’s bothered him this week. A lot. He winced and grimaced and dropped the Lord’s name in vain (the horror!) as the day dragged on.

However, despite his apparent pain, he said he’d still be playing golf even if this wasn’t the U.S. Open, so it can’t be *that* bad.

Playing the U.S. Open at Merion with an injury sounds about as fun as getting a root canal without novocaine.

“Long day and I’m hungry,” said Tiger, chuckling, following his agony-ridden 70.

How tough is it out there?

“It’s hard with the wind and the pin locations,” he said. “They’re really tough. We knew they were going to be in the areas, but we didn’t think they were going to be as severe as they are.

“A lot of guys are missing putts and blowing them by the holes and of that nature because obviously it would be a little more difficult trying to protect par.”

He implied the USGA tricked up Merion to compensate for the soft conditions. When asked if he thought the USGA had manipulated the setup too much, he paused and said, “Well, you know they moved a few of the fairways over.  2, they moved over.

“What else? 11. So they moved a couple of the fairways over.  But I think more than anything it’s the pin locations.  They’ve really tried to, I think, protect the golf course, with it being as soft as it is.  And they’ve given us some really, really tough pins.”

Some of them were definitely borderline. Are they placing the pins in super difficult positions to make up for the softness?

“They’re trying to protect par,” he said. “Maybe it was a step, step and a half harder if it would have been drier.

“Watching the telecast, I hadn’t seen this many guys blow putts past the hole with bad speed. They come up those little ridges and the ball is just flying and it’s tough.  They made it really hard.  You’ve got to hit them in the right spots, but it’s not always easy to do with the wind blowing like this.”

Many commented that Tiger “played horribly and somehow shot 70.” I responded by pointing out it looked like he wasn’t playing well because it’s THE U.S. OPEN and he was grinding and everything is just harder, so it may have appeared that way, but he did what he had to do.

He even chunked two chips on no. 7 when he just barely missed the 7th green with a wedge. He short-sided himself after pulling his approach, which landed in the fringe, took a hop and then disappeared into the rough. Now it’s easy to flub the first chip. That’s a really hard shot. His ball advanced a foot — enough to rest on the fringe and out of the crap. But he also hit the second chip heavy again, leaving it four feet short of the hole. He made the putt to save bogey.

Woods was rolling all sorts of clutch par putts in his finishing holes. He holed an 18-footer on no. 8 for a nice up-and-down.

Again, it wasn’t one of those rounds where he flushed the ball and didn’t score. What we saw the last two days was merely how you win U.S. Opens — by hanging around, staying patient and not getting greedy. Woods has never won a major after being over-par through two rounds, but Merion is one tough broad, so perhaps it’s all relative.

Asked if he liked his chances to win, Tiger replied curtly, “Yes.”

 (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)