UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — On one hole, Tiger Woods hit three consecutive sand shots as if he were practicing on the strand of an endless beach. On another hole, he missed a 4-foot putt for double bogey because he tapped the ball so meekly it almost did not reach the cup. On yet another hole, Woods chunked a pitch in the high rough and then released the club so that it helicoptered behind him.

On his final hole, he came within a centimeter or two of missing the ball entirely.

Woods has perhaps played worse rounds of golf in his life — he shot an 85 about two weeks ago — but on a big stage he has never looked as bad as he did Thursday at the 115th United States Open.

Woods’s first-round score was a stunning 10-over-par 80. But it was the utter feebleness and fundamental inability to execute basic shots that made Woods’s performance so mind-numbing, even alarming. How could he fall to such depths so quickly?

Just two months ago, Woods tied for 17th at the Masters and had two rounds in the 60s. A little more than a year ago, he was the world’s top-ranked golfer.

In Thursday’s first round, Woods had a lower score than just two players, one of them a club pro playing in his first United States Open. Woods was tied for 152nd in the tournament.

During one stretch of his professional career, Woods played more than 1,000 rounds of competitive golf and shot in the 80s once. In his last three rounds, he has shot an 85 and an 80.

Late Thursday, Tom Weiskopf of Fox Sports said what many were thinking: “It is hard to watch.”

It was also surreal. Woods, whose on-the-course countenance had once been so determined and dour, stood behind the 17th green on Thursday laughing and smiling with his playing partner Louis Oosthuizen.

Woods put his arm around Oosthuizen and giggled, using his hat to try to hide the snickers.

Who is this guy?

Granted, each player was having a horrendous day, and granted, golf can be so humbling that most players have to laugh at themselves, but was that Woods really the same person whose steely resolve had been the indomitable force that ruled the sport?

Fifteen years ago to the day, Woods was winning the United States Open by 15 strokes. At one point Thursday, he was trailing the leaders by 15 strokes.

After his light moment at the edge of the 17th green, Woods split the fairway with his tee shot and then hit the most astonishing shot of the day. With a perfect lie, Woods topped his second shot with a 3-wood, dribbling a ground ball through a bunker. The ball then scooted into another bunker.


At that moment, the crowd at Chambers Bay Golf Course was laughing at Tiger Woods on the 18th hole of America’s national golf championship.

About 10 minutes after his round was over, Woods did not appear wounded. He even offered a joke.

“The bright side is at least I kicked Rickie’s butt today,” Woods said, referring to his playing partner Rickie Fowler, who shot a startling 81.

 Otherwise, as he met with reporters, Woods was generally upbeat, as he usually is now — another juxtaposition to years of stern-faced news conference appearances.

 “It was a tough day,” he said. “Got off to a bad start and just couldn’t quite get it turned around. It’s one of those things that I’ve just got to work through.

 “I’m trying as hard as I can to do it, and for some reason I just can’t get the consistency that I’d like to have out there.”

 He lamented the effects of his back operation last year, saying he had not been able to play often enough, or practice enough.

 “I haven’t had a rhythm to play,” Woods said. “I didn’t play much last year, and I haven’t played much this year. Knee surgeries are pretty easy compared to a back surgery. For some reason, it’s just a lot harder dealing with a nerve than a joint.”

 Woods, the greatest golfer of his generation and one of the most accomplished and successful athletes on the globe in the last 20 years, was sheepishly grinning because his game was a shambles. And the whole sports world saw it Thursday.

 Over and over. Hole by hole. Shot by shot. Until it was mercifully over.

 Getting ready to exit Chambers Bay on Thursday night, Woods, whose world ranking is 195 and sinking, was asked how he would turn his game around now.

 “Keep working,” he answered. “Keep grinding and keep working.”