AKRON, Ohio – Tiger Woods gave himself plenty of chances to score Friday during a steamy second round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Finishing them off was another story.
Woods lost ground to the leaders with a 2-under 68 on the South Course at Firestone Country Club during a round that had an identity crisis. It could have been messy after he continued to spray tee balls into the rough. It could have been a haymaker if he’d have converted many of the makeable looks he gave himself from the lumber yards. In the end, he finished 36 holes in a six-way tie for 10th at 6-under 134, five strokes behind Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood and reigning PGA champion Justin Thomas.
“I was just trying to give myself putts at it,” Woods said as he wiped sweat from his brow, a signal of how hard and hot the day was at times. “Really putting well, just didn't quite hit the putts hard enough today, and to me they felt faster than what they were playing, and I struggled with hitting the putts hard enough, but when I did, I made them.”
Winner of a record-tying eight titles at this venue, Woods didn’t make many, converting just four birdies against two bogeys. His 68 was the third-highest score among the top 15 players on the leaderboard.
Through two rounds Woods is ranked 64th among 71 players in strokes gained-off the tee but is sixth overall in proximity to the hole. The disconnect shows how well Woods is hitting his irons, even from the gnarly bluegrass rough.
Though he admitted that it’s “imperative” that he get the ball in play, he only hit half his fairways for the second straight day. Two of his four birdies came on par-3 holes, the fifth and 12th, while playing from the fairway at Nos. 2 and 3 yielded the other birdies. He hit 13 greens in regulation but needed 29 putts.
Hard to describe whether the round was a success or a lost opportunity.
“I just didn’t hit it as sharp as I’d like to,” he said. “I felt a little bit more sharp. I mean, not sharp, but a little bit more so than I did yesterday.”
Sounds like, you know, golf. Because his first round yielded a 66. Not as sharp but a lower score.
The good news is that when Woods resides in the top 10 through two rounds he wins roughly half the time. The better news is that he leads the PGA Tour in third-round scoring this season with a 68.20 stroke average. Combine that with his past success on the South Course and you still have the makings of another run at an 80th tour title.
But he has to go out and convert on his chances. Six shots separate the top 21 on the leaderboard. He’s in the midst of an implausible scoring assault by his fellow competitors.
“I'm going to have to,” he said when asked about being aggressive Saturday. “The golf course is soft, it's playable, and I think it's over 40 guys right now under par, which I've never seen it like this year at Firestone. In order to make a move out here, we're going to have to shoot low ones because pretty much everyone's going to shoot a good score. So hopefully tomorrow I can do that.”
If he can’t, he’ll get a taste of how his peers felt all those years when he was dominating here.