With one gimmie-putt-length statement on Tuesday at Shinnecock Hills, Tiger Woods summed up his feelings: "I've missed playing the U.S. Open."
The 14-time major-winner addressed the media ahead of Thursday's start of the season's second major, 10 years on from his iconic victory at Torrey Pines and merely thankful to be where he is today.
"I had no expectation or thought that I actually could be here again," he said, reflecting on his health 12 months ago.
"I had just been given the OK to start walking again. What was this, June? I hadn’t been cleared to start lifting [weights]. It was about my standard of life, forget golf. To go from there to where I am now, I had no expectation."
In a wide-ranging media conference, Woods, at 42, sounded more like an elder statesman of the game. He flashed unusual candour at times, a wry sense of humour and his feelings about being able to compete with and against another giant of the game, Phil Mickelson, 47.
"We're certainly on the back end of our careers," Woods said. "When you're able to do something against someone for two-plus decades you're going to get to know them."
The not-always-friendly rivals are among a field that Woods has gotten to know "watching as much golf as I can over the past year," but also in his non-playing role on recent U.S. Ryder Cup and President's Cup teams.
Yet this week, he sees himself as a peer, a competitor, although he is coming off a performance at Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament in which a balky putter kept him from competing for a victory.
"Golf is always frustrating. There's always something that isn't right. That's why we as players have to adjust," he said, before getting more specific about his problems on the greens at Muirfield Village:
"What I did at Memorial, I didn't feel comfortable over [putts], didn't see my lines. This is a dfferent week, different setup, different grass."
Frankly, at times on Tuesday, this was a different Tiger, a relaxed man able to reflect on Sag Harbor, where he's staying, calling it "a cute little town" and admitting, "It's kind of nice to get away from the tournament atmosphere."
What he did not mention but was brought up: He's staying there on a yacht. "Yeah, staying on a dinghy helps," he joked when the "Y" word was brought up.
So a decade on from his last major victory, Woods is relaxed. He feels he still has enough game to compete in Grand Slam-calibre fields. But he knows he has not sealed the deal in his comeback from back fusion surgery, though he has played close to the top on Sundays this year on the PGA Tour.
"There are two ways of looking at that: I've given myself chances to win and I wasn't sure I was ever going to do that again," he said, "but also I’m disappointed that I didn't win.”
He says manoeuvring himself into contention is one step. "Honestly I felt very calm, I've been there so many times in my career.”
The hard part — particularly at a major "where mistakes are magnified, as they should be" — is getting past whatever nerves are there. And one of those moments of candour: He is not sure how he will react if it comes to that long lost feeling of the pressure late Sunday brings at a major.
"That," he said with a thin smile,"would be a nice problem to have."
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