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Continuing to fight body and rust, Tiger Woods shoots 4-over 74 at U.S. Open

PINEHURST, N.C. – Tiger Woods’ battle with his body is making the fight against Pinehurst that much more difficult.

Woods is playing just his ninth competitive round this year, and he acknowledged that he was nowhere near sharp enough Thursday for what is likely the most demanding test of the year.

Woods missed just two fairways – “I drove the ball on a string” – but couldn’t hit his targets into the famed Donald Ross greens that require such precision. He hit just nine greens in regulation and was near the bottom of the field in strokes gained: approach when he finished his round of 4-over 74 at the U.S. Open.

“I didn’t hit the ball very well,” Wood said. “It added up to quite a bit of distance away from the flag. It’s not where I wanted to be on a lot of the holes. It just ended up being that far away because I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be.”

That’s been a familiar theme for Woods, who made the cut at the Masters but tumbled down the leaderboard after a third-round 82 that left him last among those who played all four rounds. He didn’t even see the weekend at the PGA Championship, where his rounds of 72-77 left him in a tie for 133rd.

It has led to the question: If he continues to remark about his rustiness, why doesn’t Woods just play more?

Woods said he’s improving physically as the year has gone on. “I just haven’t been able to play as much because I just don’t want to hurt myself pre(-tournament); then I won’t be able to play in the major championships,” he said.

“So, it’s pick your poison, right? Play a lot with the potential of not playing. Or not playing and fight being not as sharp.”

In his limited action this year, Woods has hit just 50% of his greens (which has long been the hallmark of his game) while scrambling at just a 50% rate. He often can’t push too hard the week of the tournament, either, lest he wear himself out before the first tee shot is even struck. After a scouting trip to Pinehurst last week, he played nine holes each on Monday and Tuesday before opting just to practice on Wednesday.

After an untidy opening round that will leave him scrambling to make the cut again, Woods said he was hoping to be able to practice after lunch – unless his back tightens up in the air-conditioned shuttle ride back to the clubhouse.

“This is a golf course that doesn’t give up a whole lot of birdies; it gives up a lot of bogeys and higher,” he said. “I thought I did the one thing I needed to do today, which is drive the ball well. I did that that – I just didn’t capitalize on any of it.”