DUBLIN, Ohio—When he birdied the eighth hole to reach five under par on his round, Tiger Woods looked well on his way to challenging his personal best of 63 at Muirfield Village Golf Club. John Huston’s course record of 61 also appeared to be in play. And who knew if that magical 59 was possible.
In other words, Woods was on a roll.
“The goal today was to get to double digits [under par] and get something positive going into the [U.S.] Open,” Woods said. “And I got to double digits. I just didn’t stay there.”
Indeed, Woods would add birdies at 11 and 12 to reach 11 under par to send the immense crowds cheering and clapping—when they were not snapping their cell phones—but his marvelous rally fizzled thereafter. Still, despite two bogeys coming home, the reigning Masters champion carded an encouraging five-under 67 to climb into the top 10 for the ninth time in 17 appearance in the Memorial Tournament.
Winner of a record five titles at Jack Nicklaus’ tournament, Woods completed 72 holes in nine-under 279, exactly the same total as a year ago and his winning total in the 2012 edition. He has never missed the cut at Muirfield Village.
“It could have been a little better, for sure,” Woods, No. 5 in the world, said after he missed four of his last six greens in regulation after going 12-for-12 to start the round. “Going into today, I was never going to win the tournament, but I was hoping I could get something positive going into the Open, and I was able to accomplish that, which is great, and get some nice positive momentum going into a nice practice week.
“But overall it was a great day,” he added. “I hit the ball really well and made some nice putts.”
The most encouraging part of the day, he said, was his ability to make a golf swing similar to the one he used so effectively in winning the Masters. A slight adjustment in his backswing is the key.
“I’m trying to get deeper into my backswing and trying to get my right hip loaded a little bit more, so I put more stress on my hip and my legs instead of my back,” Woods told GOLFTV. “But a lot of that is contingent upon how stiff I am. If I feel like I’m moving good I can get into my hip better. And I can clear, and I can do what I did today. But if I’m feeling tight then it’s really hard for me to get into my right hip and push off and clear from there. I know what I need to do, and this is what I was doing at Augusta. It’s the same feels. I just didn’t do it the last tournament I played in [the PGA]. I didn’t do a very good job at Bethpage, but I did a much better job this week.”
Coming off an 11-foot birdie putt at No. 12, Woods missed his first green at the par-4 13th, but he got up and down from the right bunker for par. He couldn’t recover, however, from another miss at the short par-4 14th after he pulled his approach from 137 yards into the left rough, well above the hole. He did well to keep his pitch shot to within 11 feet, but the par save from the collar of the green was wide left.
His other bogey came at 18, again after pulling an approach left of the green. But there were so many good things that occurred as his ball striking overall was splendid on a breezy and mild afternoon. The driver, in particular, was quite efficient; Woods pumped 12 of his 14 tee shots into the fairway, his best effort of the week. He also got his putter going, needing just 26 putts the final day while making nearly 97 feet of putts, also best among his four rounds.
For the week, Woods played the front nine in 11 under par and the more difficult back nine in two over. He birdied Nos. 2, 3, 5, 7 and 8 on the front with only one putt longer than eight feet, that coming on the par-4 second from 24 feet.
Next up is the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where in 2000 he won the first of his three national titles by a record 15 strokes in perhaps the most dominating performance in major championship history. Woods finished 12 under par at the iconic seaside layout, while second place was three over par. The victory also initiated his unprecedented run of four major wins in a row, which never has been duplicated.
The native of Cypress, Calif., is heading back to his home state with some good memories and some good feelings about the direction of his game.
“Each day I got a little more crisp,” said Woods, 43, the winner of 81 PGA Tour titles and 15 majors. “I got a few mistakes and didn't keep the card as clean as I'd like. A couple of loose iron shots here and there, but overall I drove it great this week. I just need to clean up the rounds and make sure I don't drop two shots, and made a couple of doubles this week, and those hurt.
“Those are loose things that you can’t afford to have happen in the Open. If I can clean those up, I should be all right.”