Tiger Woods made somber admission after U.S. Open missed cut

Tiger Woods missed the cut at the U.S. Open on Friday.

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PINEHURST, N.C. — The worker wore dirty jeans and a yellow reflective vest. He sat in his utility cart, in front of the road that crosses in front of the 15th tee box at Pinehurst No. 2, and waited. Another group was coming through and had to tee off before the volunteers removed the ropes and opened the passageway.

So for now, it was break time. Until he realized who was about to tee off.

“Hey, Tiger’s on the tee,” he said to his buddy in the cart behind him. “Let’s walk up.”

The grown men sprung out of their seats and nestled up to the ropes, joining hundreds of other fans straining for a glimpse.

On Friday evening at Pinehurst, the weekend plan was mostly set. We knew Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy were going to be teeing off late on Saturday. We knew Ludvig Aberg and Patrick Cantlay, whenever they finished, would join them. We knew Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas and Max Homa and Viktor Hovland were going home.

Other storylines were sparse, except for Tiger Woods. He had a late tee time, and the Pinehurst faithful had to wait for him. But the real question was, would he stick around for two more days?

Woods shot an unusual 74 on Thursday; he drove it beautifully (12 of 14 fairways) yet hit his irons poorly (9 of 18 greens). Usually, it’s the opposite formula. He knew he needed to shoot around even par, at worst, to make the cut on Friday, but even-par days don’t come easy at U.S. Opens.

When he reached the 15th tee, at about 5:30 p.m. local time, Woods was two over for the day and six over for the tournament. At that point, it was a near certainty the cut would be five over, possibly even four. He missed an 11-footer for par on 12, so he knew what the goal was the rest of the way. On 13, he missed an 8-footer for birdie. On 14, he couldn’t drain a 20-footer.

Four holes left. He needed a birdie. The Village and NBC Sports corporate tents lined each side of the par-3 15th. It was still scorching hot, although a slight breeze helped. It was a wonderful way to spend a Friday evening, watching Woods chase a weekend spot.

Woods cozied it to 16 feet. It was his last best chance for a birdie, and he knew it. So when he struck the putt and saw it track toward the hole he couldn’t help but pick up that lead front foot, readying to walk it in himself, a move we’ve seen from him hundreds of times. But this one didn’t track. It caught an edge. Woods hunched over. The crowd groaned.

“Yeah, 15 hurt,” Woods said later, after he had signed for 73 and missed the cut by two. “If I make that putt, it flips the momentum, and I’m looking pretty good on the last three holes, and instead I’m on the wrong side of the cut line.”

Despite the support of the fans sweating outside the ropes, Woods’ 74-73 (seven over) wasn’t good enough to make his first U.S. Open weekend in five years. He had another shot at birdie on 16, but a poor putt from behind the green led to a bogey. He parred the final two holes.

“My ball-striking, and felt like my putting was good enough to be in contention, and I’m not,” Woods said. “Yes, it is frustrating because I’m not here to have a chance to win on the weekend.”

Woods answered four questions from the media afterward. One confirmed he has just one start left this season, the Open Championship, and another led to a more somber realization.

Asked if at any point during the week he thought that this could be his last U.S. Open, Woods said, “It may or may not be.”

It was surprising candor, and might have hit like a gut-punch to some, but he was just stating facts. Woods is not exempt for future U.S. Opens, just as he wasn’t this year. He received a special invite from the USGA, which likely will be offered to him in perpetuity, or at least until he no longer wants one. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, among others, also received special exemptions.

But majors (and major weekends) with Woods, who is 48, are hardly guaranteed these days. The injuries. The car accident. The (lack of) reps. In the previous eight years, he’s played only half of golf’s majors, two of which he withdrew from. If Woods plays the Open Championship next month, it will be the first time in four years he’s played every major in a year.

Woods’ U.S. Open farewell might not be imminent, but his words Friday night reminded us nothing lasts forever.

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