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Tiger Woods' first U.S. Open start since 2020 ended Friday afternoon with a missed cut. A three-time champion at this event followed his opening 74 with a second-round 73 to finish well outside the cutline at 7 over. And outside a couple holes early in his first round, Woods never seemed to be in the tournament.

There was some optimism around Tiger's ability to be competitive at Pinehurst No. 2 given the warm weather and relatively flat course would presumably help him avoid being physically limited on the course, which is what has most significantly his play in the past. While Woods' ball striking seemed mostly in check throughout his 36 holes, there were simply not enough low scores, especially late in the round. 

"It was probably the highest score I could have possibly shot today," a frustrated Woods said after the round. "I hit a lot of good shots that just didn't quite go my way, or I hit good putts and then I put myself in a couple bad spots with some bad lag putts. But again, as I said, it was probably the highest score I could have shot today." 

Woods did get his round started with a few highlights that suggested he was capable of improving from his 4-over position on the leaderboard after Thursday, starting with a big par save on the 2nd hole, which played as one of the toughest on the course on Friday. 

He then brought the Pinehurst gallery to their feet just a few holes later, finishing the long par-4 4th with a birdie putt. 

Starting strong was the theme in each of Woods' rounds, but so was the inability to match that success on his second nine. Woods had four bogeys on the front nine Thursday, when he started on the 10th hole, then two bogeys and no birdies on the back nine on Friday when he started at No. 1. In both cases, his first sets were better, and he was plagued by either mistakes or missed opportunities the deeper he got into his rounds. 

"It's frustrating. I'm not here for the weekend," Woods said. "Granted, my ball-striking and [I] felt like my putting was good enough to be in contention, and I'm not."

Though Woods has nine USGA championships to his name -- three U.S. Opens, three U.S. Amateurs and three U.S. Junior Amateurs -- this particular major has not been a place where he's found success in the later stages of his career. This year's edition at Pinehurst No. 2 was just Tiger's fifth U.S. Open start since 2014, and the results of those starts are four missed cuts and a T21 in 2019, which was held at Pebble Beach (where he won previously) the same year he won the Masters, his last major championship. 

Tiger's qualification for the field in 2024 actually came as a result of a special exemption. The U.S. Open offers automatic exemptions for the last 10 U.S. Open champions and the last five Masters winners. 

So, how will Woods treat his U.S. Open future? He seemed murky about whether he would continue playing the event when asked after the round. He noted that he has "one more event this season" and then he'll "come back whenever I come back." 

"As far as my last Open Championship or U.S. Open Championship, I don't know what that is," Woods said. "It may or may not be."

While Tiger may be stewing in his frustrations of missed opportunities in the moment, it feels unlikely that he would completely close the door to playing future U.S. Opens -- especially with Oakmont, Shinnecock Hills, Pebble Beach and Winged Foot coming up as options the next four years.

Jack Nicklaus received more than a handful of special exemptions near the end of his playing career, and the tone from the USGA heading into this week's championship certainly suggests that it holds Tiger in similar esteem. 

"The story of the U.S. Open could not be written without Tiger Woods," USGA chief championships officer John Bodenhamer said when Woods' special exemption was confirmed. "From his 15-stroke victory at Pebble Beach in 2000 to his inspiring win on a broken leg at Torrey Pines in 2008, this championship is simply better when Tiger is in the field, and his accomplishiments in the game undoubtedly made this an easy decision for our special exemption committee." 

The 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, the course where he was runner-up to Michael Campbell in 2005 and finished T3 in 1999, did seem like an opportunity for Woods to recapture a glimmer of glory here in the late stages of his career. He's a fierce competitor who claims he wants to have a chance to contend any time he tees it up for a tournament, but there's a question as to whether he needs to play more tournaments to have his game in position to reach that desired point of contention.

Those questions are for later, though. What stands now is frustration from Tiger that he did not play better in a special championship at a special place where he felt his play was better than what was written on the scorecard.