SAN FRANCISCO – Tiger Woods couldn't stop talking Tuesday about how the U.S. Open presents the toughest test of the year.
If that's the case, then how he fares at The Olympic Club could go a long way in helping him figure out how close he is to returning to the top of golf.
Woods took a big step two weeks ago at Muirfield Village, when he rallied from a four-shot deficit at the Memorial and holed an amazing chip for birdie late in the round for his second win of the season. That was enough to make him the betting favorite when the U.S. Open begins Thursday.
Then again, he won Bay Hill in his final start before the Masters, and he looked ordinary in a tie for 40th at the Masters.
"When I went into Augusta, I did not feel comfortable hitting the ball up," Woods said. "And I got back into a lot of my old patterns. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. But that's what made playing Muirfield so nice. I had those shots, and I was doing it the correct way. And I had compression, hitting the ball high and hitting it long. That was fun."
Olympic is all about hitting it in the fairway, and the right spots on the green.
The golf course is longer than when Woods tied for 18th in 1998, though that isn't the biggest change. The greens have been resurfaced, and they roll so fast that it's difficult to get the ball close. Plus, the USGA has shaved some areas off the green to form large collection areas. A slight miss could send the ball some 30 yards away. Woods told of the par-3 13th during a practice round in which he hit the green, and the ball rolled down a slope and just inside a hazard.
"This is probably the hardest test that we play all year," Woods said.
He plays the opening two rounds with Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Bubba Watson, who says being in such a high-powered group might make it feel like Sunday at Augusta National. Woods and Mickelson have played together in majors, such as the final round of the Masters in 2009 and the opening rounds of the 2008 U.S. Open.
For Woods, it's all about getting in position for Sunday, with a chance to end his longest drought in the majors and get to No. 15.
As for chit-chat with Mickelson, his longest rival?
"I don't think we're going to talk about a lot," Woods said. "This is a major championship. We've got work to do. ... It's such a test playing in this championship. I think this is one of those championships that I think the guys talk the least to one another because it's so difficult."