PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods has shown plenty of ability to fight back throughout his career, especially over the last year. He did it here at TPC Sawgrass a year ago, when he entered the weekend 14 shots off of Webb Simpson's lead and proceeded to shoot 10 under on Saturday and Sunday to tie for 11th.
Woods will need to do something similar this weekend, an unfortunate reality thanks to the "quad heard 'round the world" at the par-3 17th on Friday. The disastrous turn of events couldn't have come at a worse time, as the 14-time major winner had just pulled to within two strokes of the lead with his third birdie of his front nine at the par-5 16th after starting the morning round on the 10th hole. The massive, early arriving crowd at the island green was buzzing, hoping to catch a glimpse of a vintage Friday charge. Instead, Woods flew a wedge too far; it took one hop on the green and a few more on the fringe before rolling into the drink.
The shock of the moment only increased when Woods went to the drop area and pulled a half-wedge shot, one-hopping a second ball into the water. He walked off with a 7, dropping him from five under to one under in a matter of minutes.
"The second wedge shot, I hit it too flat," Woods said. "But the first one I was a bit surprised it went that far. I took something off that wedge, and it flew a lot further than I thought.
"Both shots I'm just trying to hit the ball into the slope and just walk away with a 20-, 25-footer and move on about my business. As I said, the second one I hit too flat and too hot. But the first one from the regular tee was a good shot, it just flew a little bit too far."
Woods battled back, carding a a bogey-free two-under 34 on the Stadium Course's front nine (his back). He made birdies at the par-5 second and the par-4 seventh, where he piped a drive past both his playing competitors, Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed, before sticking his approach to six inches. He had two more legitimate birdie chances at the eighth and ninth, but didn't scare the hole either time.
His one-under 71 puts him at three under for the tournament, two shots away from his ultimate goal after the demoralizing quadruple bogey.
"I was pretty ticked, no doubt about that," he said. "I was bound and determined to get it all back and get it back to five [under], and I thought that would have been a hell of a fight."
Even still, he did some impressive grinding to get to three under, which at the end of his day put Woods just six strokes off the lead. That deficit is likely to grow with the afternoon wave still to come and a couple players already going low, which could put him between around seven or eight strokes off the pace heading into the weekend. Not ideal, of course, but Woods sounded optimistic.
"Ended up getting back to three, still was a good fight to get to that point," Woods said. "As of right now I'm six back, which is definitely doable on this golf course, especially with the weather coming in, and I just need to go out there and put it together this weekend, because right now literally anybody who makes the cut has got a chance to win this tournament."