Tiger's playing partner: 'I was in awe of him'
(Photo: Getty Images)
AKRON, Ohio - It wasn't anything the denizens of Firestone CC hadn't seen before. They just hadn't seen it in a while.
"Oh, they were excited," Tiger Woods said of the gallery that was buzzing around him Friday afternoon during the second round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone's South Course. "You could hear it more than feel it. They were into it."
Of course, Woods was rather nonchalantly keeping his head while all around were losing theirs as the No. 1 player in the world dissected one of his favorite haunts. With nine birdies in his first 13 holes, Woods was on pace for a special round, and everyone from Golf Channel to the golf novice became engrossed in the proceedings.
The birdie spigot inexplicably ran dry, however, and Woods instead had to settle - if that's the right word - for a 61 that tied his career low on the PGA Tour and the course record he shares with Jose Maria Olazabal.
At 13-under 127, Woods carries a seven-stroke lead over Keegan Bradley and Chris Wood into the third round at an event he has won seven times, the last coming in 2009 that ran his streak to four in a row. Incredibly, his performance thus far is second to his 64-61 start here during his remarkable 2000 season when he posted 21-under 259 and won by 11 strokes.
"The funny thing is I didn't feel uncomfortable about being there," said Woods, 37, who shot 59 at his home course at the time, Isleworth CC in Orlando, the weekend prior to winning the 1997 Masters.
"Am I disappointed? Absolutely not. Nope," Woods said when he was asked about missing a realistic chance to break 60. "Sixty-one is pretty good. I'm not bummed."
With a seven-stroke lead, Woods has forged the largest 36-hole advantage since David Toms led by seven at Colonial in 2011. Woods has never lost a lead larger than the four strokes Y.E. Yang erased after 36 holes in the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National GC.
Playing alongside Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Woods began with a birdie-eagle-birdie burst on the soft Firestone layout to leapfrog Bradley and into the lead. A 22-foot par save at the sixth after having to pitch out of the trees preserved his momentum, and he followed with a four-foot birdie at the seventh to turn in 30.
"I was just thinking, whatever lead I had, let's just keep increasing it," said Woods, who already has four victories this year, including The Players.
Increase his lead he did with four straight birdies to open the inward nine, sinking putts of seven feet, five feet, 20 feet and 14 feet. The 59 watch was on, and with 11 one-putt greens behind him - not to mention his penchant for destruction at Firestone - his chances looked promising for becoming the sixth PGA Tour player to break 60. (It has been done five times on the Web.com Tour, including twice this season, by Russell Knox and Will Wilcox in a two-week span.)
"I was in awe of him," Matsuyama, who birdied two of his last three for a 68, said through an interpreter of his playing partner. "To watch the number one player in the world play like that, I realize how big the gap is in our games. It was fun to watch."
Woods converted another par from the woods at the 14th, thanks to an eight-footer, but he missed a nine-foot birdie at the 15th and then overcooked a wedge at the par-5 16th that left him 30 feet away. When he stuffed a wedge at the 17th to seven feet, the dream was still alive. But "I talked myself out of the read," he said.
There was still drama at 18, however, when he pushed his drive way right and couldn't escape the trees with his second. He managed to scoot his third to the back fringe, and from there he coaxed in a 26-foot par save. He raised him right arm and extended his index finger, when the putt dropped.
He didn't need to remind anyone that he's No. 1 in the world and on the leaderboard.
"He played very solid all the way around and took advantage of the conditions," said Joe LaCava, Woods' caddie. "He was in control of his golf ball, he had good numbers [yardages approaching the greens] and he putted well. And then he finishes in typical style."
Woods, who has shot 61 four times, found it difficult to be impressed with his performance.
"It's how I've been playing. I just hadn't put it together," he said.
When he does put it together, he tears a place apart.