Tiger vs. Rory
August 22, 2020

Attractive pairing, ugly golf for Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in Northern Trust

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Rob Carr

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy share a smile on the first tee in the third round of the Northern Trust.

NORTON, Mass.—The pairing was glitzy. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Nineteen major championships and an even 100 PGA Tour wins between them.

Both players made the cut on the number, and they were the second group off on Saturday morning at the Northern Trust, but there was still a semi-buzz in the air as the game’s biggest stars of the last two decades shared a tee box. Both players hit the first fairway, and both stuck their approaches inside 10 feet. The sun was out and the vibes were positive.

The rest of the day … not so much.

Woods and McIlroy both struggled mightily on another ideal day for scoring at TPC Boston. Woods lost nearly 3.5 strokes to the field putting en route to a two-over 73, while McIlroy had two front-nine triple bogeys on his way to 74.

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In related news, neither player spoke to the media after the round, opting instead for burgers at an outdoor picnic table. There wasn’t much to say, and nothing cures a bad round quite like a burger.

For Woods, it was yet another maddening day on the putting greens, which have not given the rest of the field any trouble at all—Scottie Scheffler shot 59 on Friday, and Dustin Johnson was 11 under through 11 before he “settled” for 60. The first sign of distress was on the very first green, where Woods lipped out a five-footer for birdie. He would miss three putts inside eight feet on his next four holes and, somehow, found himself one over par through 5.

His second birdie of the day came at the par-4 ninth, set up by a perfect approach to seven feet, and he made the turn in even-par 36. Bogeys at 11, 12 and 14 torpedoed any chance of something under par, and the back nine was wholly forgettable … except for one thing that’s never happened before.

After splashing a bunker shot out to tap-in range on 17, Woods turned to caddie Joe LaCava and told him to watch—this was going to be the first time Woods had ever purposely holed out with the flag in.

McIlroy couldn’t believe it: “Ever?”

LaCava: “If he was three under, no chance.”

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Ben Jared

Tiger Woods watches his shot on the second fairway during the third round of the Northern Trust.

Woods would birdie the 18th to finish the day at two over, but that exchange symbolized the overall mood as the day wore on. Neither player took themselves or their play too seriously. Of course, they’re professional golfers, and there’s a $75 million FedEx Cup prize fund at stake, so both will be keen to sort out their struggles. But again, these are two guys with 19 majors and 100 PGA Tour wins between them. They’d be the first to tell you that sometimes, a bad round is just a bad round.

Woods, however, will have to play his best golf in nearly a year if he’s to qualify for the Tour Championship. After coming into the playoffs ranked No. 49 in the FedEx standings, he will likely drop at least five spots unless he shoots something ridiculously low on Sunday. Alas, there is the very real possibility that next week’s BMW Championship, his seventh start of this truncated season, will also be his last.