PEBBLE BEACH — It was mostly a blur, and it had nothing to do with the marine layer that encamped Monterey Peninsula Friday morning. Sort of astonishing, really, given this course provides as many memorable opportunities—in scoring and scenery—as any track in the country. Tiger Woods always has a flair for the impossible, and during the second round of the U.S. Open, he did just that, turning in a rather forgettable round on one of the game's most unforgettable venues.
Woods toured Pebble Beach in 72 strokes on Day 2. It was one of those "highest I could have shot" rounds, and the antithesis of his Thursday performance.
"Yeah, I'm a little hot right now," Woods said after his round. "I just signed my card about a minute ago. So need a little time to cool down a little bit."
How to describe Tiger's day? How about monotonous. Inherently, it's not a negative adjective, but rarely is it used in a positive light. That holds true when it comes to golf; think of a bland course layout (cough cough, Firestone, cough cough), the tour's fall schedule, most player press conferences.
There are, however, exceptions, the U.S. Open being one of them. Monotonous rounds are welcomed sights. Wanted sights. Monotonous rounds, the majority of the time, win this championship. Case in point: Graeme McDowell broke par just once here in 2010 in route to winning the U.S. Open. That includes this week, even as the scoreboard has a bit more red numbers than many are accustom to seeing in a USGA championship.
Somehow, Woods played the first 16 holes in just one under. We say somehow in that the score came despite him hitting 13 greens in this stretch, far better than Thursday's round and resembling the iron player we've come to know him as over his career. Unfortunately for Woods, his putter—the one that worked like a magic wand in Round 1 to the tune of 3.81 strokes gained/putting—seemed to be short on voodoo.
Woods had a whopping 32 putts on the day, and was two strokes worse than the morning wave average on the green.
"A little bit quicker. Still a little slow and bumpy," Woods said of the greens. "It's so important to be below the hole, because above the holes, they're a little tough to make."
His lone birdie came off a 10-footer at the 11th, minutes after missing a putt of similar length at the 10th, his first hole of the day. What followed were 14 pars, keeping him at two under for most of the day. Drive, approach, missed putt, tap-in, polite claps. Onward.
"They moved a couple of the pins I think a little bit more difficult than they were yesterday for sure," Woods said. "And now with the—this marine layer lifting, the wind is going to start picking up. It's going to get a little quick this afternoon."
Par is your friend at the national championship. Most of the time, that is. For the second straight day, Woods failed to birdie the back nine's par 5s—which rank as the fourth and fifth easiest holes of the week—and he also made par on the sixth (Pebble's easiest hole) due to another 10-foot miss for birdie.
And if that was it, Woods would have been relatively content. Pebble's eighth and ninth had other plans in mind.
His first bogey of the day—his first in 30 holes—came on the eighth. Despite finding the fairway, Woods' approach went wayward, some 15 yards off the green. From there he put his chip to 20 feet, his long par save not to be. Back to one under for the tournament. Then on his final hole of the day, Woods' drive on the right-bending ninth stayed left, his ball coming to rest in a bunker. His second was 60 yards short and in the left rough, a precarious position considering the left-side pin.
To Tiger's credit, he made a marvelous shot from there, leaving seven feet for par. But it was a sweeping seven feet, and Woods' ball never had a chance when it came off the face. In a blink of an eye, Woods went from lurking to barely in the mix, T-37 at even-par 142 as the afternoon groups teed off.
Luckily for Woods, first-round leader and playing partner Justin Rose didn't run away from the field, his one-under 70 moving him to seven under for the tournament. Woods' seven-shot deficit is big, but not insurmountable. Should Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Louis Oosthuizen or another play go deep, it might be a bridge too far.
As we saw at last year's U.S. Open, wacky things can happen on the weekend. Simply being there—something that didn't happen at last month's PGA Championship—keeps you near the fire.
"Right now I'm still in the ball game. There's so many guys with a chance to win," Woods said. "We've got a long way to go, and, you know, we'll see how it shapes up for tomorrow."
But he'll need something more than a monotonous round to say the same on Saturday.