COMMENTARY | Tiger Woods believes in the athlete. The bean counters at Nike would be proud.
More than believing in the athlete, Woods feels that he embodies every characteristic that the word invokes, including playing when you're hurt.
Woods injured his elbow sometime during the Players Championship. When exactly, he is not willing to divulge, but heading into the weekend at the US Open, Woods is in the hunt and his limited elbow could prove to be a blessing in disguise.
While Woods and his camp were unwilling to get into the specifics of the injury during media availability, the Golf Channel's Notah Begay III was able to coax some information out of Woods prior to the start of his second round.
Begay III relayed on the NBC telecast that Woods had, in fact, injured his left elbow. Speculation circulated that it could be his left wrist that was causing discomfort. Begay III went on to say that Woods was icing the elbow and using electrical stimulation at night to prevent inflammation and swelling.
Woods made a concerted effort to conceal any pain he felt during his Friday play that ended with him at 3-over par for the tournament and four back of the 36-hole co-leaders Billy Horschel and Phil Mickelson.
Heading into the weekend at the year's second major championship an injury-limited version of himself could be exactly what the 14-time major champion needs to get out of his own way and end his major drought.
Merion Golf Club has more than risen to the occasion and proven that classically designed courses can stand up to today's best players and their seemingly limitless equipment. Merion has been challenging as a result of her undulating greens, long par-3s, difficult closing stretch and most notoriously, her luscious rough.
It is that rough that has caused Woods so much physical angst. Driving down into the thick rough seems to trigger a reaction out of the No. 1 player in the world that normal contact does not conjure.
To be sure, the pain that Woods feels when hitting from the fairway is not nonexistent, but playing from the thick rough magnifies the pain exponentially. And Woods is nothing if not resilient. And stubborn. And a grinder.
He's also a master of course management and in more recent times, more concerned with self-preservation. Combining those two aspects could be key in how Woods plays the weekend at the US Open.
Given his injury, Woods will place even more emphasis on hitting fairways. While being in the fairway is always a priority at US Opens, the temptation to take on a risk-reward shot will be reduced simply by virtue of the pain a miss could cause.
The mindset would be beneficial because there is no reason to push or force things at a US Open, especially on a course like Merion that has proven to have the ability to punch players in the nose for a wayward shot.
Very likely, standing still will move Woods up the leaderboard as the weather improves and the course conditions toughen.
Woods' sore elbow and the additional pain that comes from hitting from the rough could cause Woods to play a more conservative, grind-it-out style, which is exactly what is necessary if Woods wants to put himself in a little more pain by lifting the US Open Trophy on Sunday evening.
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple outlets including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com, The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer and The Clermont (OH) Sun.
Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
- Sports & Recreation
- Tiger Woods