SAN FRANCISCO – At this stage of Tiger Woods' career, unpredictability is as sure a gamble as a red shirt on Sunday. . The much talked about summer fog and cool air at T.P.C. Harding Park constantly threatens Woods's ability to function without pain or fatigue. In recent years he has changed golf club manufacturers, from his golf ball brand and even his putter this week. He wore a neck guard on Thursday, a sign of the pandemic times.
A difficult Friday lap of two-over 72 put Woods in a tie for the P.G.A. Championship – tied for 44th, eight shots behind leader Haotong Li – just outside the one-overs mark.
His performance over two rounds has shown how, even with the most deliberate approach, no one knows what will come of what was once the most reliable bet in the sport: Tiger Woods at a major.
For starters, his Thursday morning round was excellent, a competitive 68 that looked fresh and some of his best putts of the year – his combined total of 114 feet, 9 inches of putts made was a season high. Another sign of the times: Woods' switch to a slightly longer putter was made, he said, in part so that he didn't have to bend over as much while practicing.
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From his first swing of the day Friday, a 301m run from the first tee, his back looked healthy, perhaps a benefit from the afternoon tee time that allowed him to rest and warm up. His next swing was good, although his missed 7-footer birdie was a disappointment.
Another missed putt, a 12-footer for par on No. 3, which remained left despite Woods' body language spurring him to the right, led to bogey and questions about the knife. They delved into a missed 9-footer for birdie on the 4th hole after a perfect ride on par 5. Another missed birdie attempt at No. 5, from 3 meters, had him run off the green, a stern expression etched.
The move to the new putter, which was celebrated on Thursday, looked like a curse on Friday.
Woods tried to appease the golf gods with solid ball hits, hitting six of the first nine greens according to regulations. Another missed attempt, a 14-footer for par on the tough ninth hole showed the insensitivity of the gods. Woods made the turn on a 2-over-37, even par for the tournament. He was on his own when the cutting line loomed.
“I had a great ride today. That's one of the things I wanted to clean up yesterday, & # 39; said Woods. “And I was really struggling to keep pace with the greens today. They looked faster than what they were putting.
Woods finally sank nine feet before his first birdie of the day at No. 10 and saved par on the 12th. While no fans are allowed in Harding Park, a die-hard group of about twenty fans lined Lake Merced Boulevard at the 12th tee box, peering through a fence.
“Even the 12th hole, the tee box down there along the way, Tiger gets on the tee and everyone goes crazy and you have to wait for them to settle down,” said Rory McIlroy, who accompanied Woods and Justin Thomas.
But the momentum didn't last, as he failed to get up and down from a bunker at No. 13, and missed another makeable par at a distance of seven feet.
At this point Woods & # 39; s face hid nothing of his disgust. Woods blew the approach across the 15th green for another bogey, his body language faltering along with his weekend status.
His survival instincts kicked into action, however, and a decision to get off the tee at short par 4 16th led to a 12-foot make-up for birdie, his longest putt made of the day. After all, he would do the trick.
Keen to maximize his budget golf swing for a calendar year, Woods told reporters earlier in the week that he had prepared his body for the schedule's big tournament. delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Since he hosted and played at the Genesis Invitational in February, where he finished 68th, Woods stopped playing until the Memorial Tournament in July, where another Friday meeting helped him make the cut on the number before joining finished in 46th place. The FedEx Cup playoffs complement August, leading to the United States Open at Winged Foot in September and the Masters rescheduled just before Thanksgiving.
Since an emotional Masters victory in 2019, Woods missed cuts to two of his next three majors, the 2019 PGA Championship and the 2019 Open Championship, perhaps suggesting that the win was both physically and mentally straining.
"I've been celebrating for a long time winning the Masters," he said this week with a smile.
He arrived for the field on Sunday for a practice round, comfortably in a region half an hour's drive north of Stanford University, Woods & # 39; alma mater. After growing up playing munis in Southern California, Woods looked almost at home when TV cameras noticed him changing his shoes in the parking lot for his Friday round.
As a muni duffer, Woods experienced the ordeal of golf over the next five hours. Earlier this week he was asked, given his back and his dismissal, if he can win? "Of course," said Woods
That picture looked bleaker after a tiring Friday for Woods and his fellow rivals in the group. McIlroy shot a one-under-par 69, tied for 31st, and Thomas entered the clubhouse with a 70 for today, one-over-par for the tournament and just inside the cut. It was clear that Harding Park had worked them to the bone.
"Once Tiger and I made it to our 18 tee shots," said McIlroy, "I just gave him a look of," phew, glad that's nearly done. " 39; ”