SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Physically, Tiger Woods seems to have all the pieces together. His left knee — which has undergone multiple surgeries — appears strong, and he has shown no effects from last year's spinal fusion procedure that kept him away from competition for nine months.
His golf game, however, is another story. The pieces are scattered from week to week. His ball-striking might be off on the same days that he can make almost any putt he looks at. Then in rounds where he is striking it as he did when he was winning his 14 major championships, his putts just can't find the hole.
Woods, now 42, returns this week to Shinnecock Hills Golf Club for his 20th appearance in the U.S. Open and first since 2015. A three-time Open champion, he is thankful that he can play but wondering when all aspects of his game will come together, certainly an aggravating time as he tries to approach the form that made him a household name more than two decades ago.
"Golf is always frustrating," he said Tuesday in a room packed with media. "There's always something that isn't quite right and that's where we, as players, have to make adjustments. You've seen the tournaments I've played in this year. There's always something.
"Hopefully, this is one of those weeks where I put it all together and even it out, and we'll see what happens."
Woods has contended a few times in his nine events this year. He tied for second, one stroke back, at the Valspar Championship in Florida, finished in a fifth-place tie the following week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and played well on the weekend at the Players Championship before fading late.
His most recent performance may have been the most frustrating. He struck the ball pristinely at the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago, finishing first in the PGA Tour's metric of strokes gained from tee to green, but he finished 72nd in the putting metric and tied for 23rd. He missed seven putts inside of 5 feet that weekend.
"What I did at Memorial, I just didn't feel comfortable over it," he said. "I couldn't see my lines. Those greens were quick and I just didn't feel comfortable and didn't hit many good putts. I hit a lot of bad ones."
Now after working on his putting "pretty hard" during his off week, Woods says his stroke feels good. He and his fellow competitors must deal with Shinnecock's greens, which contain poa annua, a strain of grass found in courses by the water that grows faster and can create bumpy surfaces.
"This is what I basically grew up on out there on the West Coast," Woods said. "Poa gets bumpy and it requires a lot of patience. A lot of times you can hit great putts on poa and it doesn't go in. The key is to hit putts solid and see what happens."
Woods made his U.S. Open debut here in 1995, at the end of his freshman year at Stanford, but he withdrew in the second round with a wrist injury caused by hitting a shot out of the deep fescue. He tied for 17th in 2004.
Now he has returned. Can he be a factor? He has enjoyed being in the hunt again on the PGA Tour and now yearns to do it in a major, particularly considering where he was with his health at this time last year when he watched the Open on television.