KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – For five-and-a-half hours Friday, it was Tiger Woods against the wind. And for all but the last five seconds, Woods won.
He had a terrific second round, with rain drenching his shirt, sand blowing in his face and the 30-plus-mph ocean gale constantly trying to shove him over. It was by one standard the toughest round in the history of the PGA Championship, and yet Woods made clutch putt after clutch putt, fist pump after fist pump. He’s right there now, in a three-way tie for the lead, at 4-under, on a day when the conditions broke just about everyone but him.
But that one putt. That one final four-foot putt on 18. That’s what kept Woods on the practice green late into the night here. That’s what turned his frequent smile during most of the round into the spooked stare he showed as he stormed off the last green and ran up the stairs toward the clubhouse.
The conditions were wretched all day, pushing the second round to the brink of the impossible. The wind was so strong, rippling every pant leg and widening every putting stance, Woods said he couldn’t even take a backswing on a short putt without the shaft of his club moving. He had to add up to a foot of break on the greens today, based on the wind.
Woods said the “brutal” conditions were like a links course overseas. But in Europe, at least, a pro can run the ball along the ground and keep it out of the gusts. Not so here along the Atlantic. Not so with these elevated greens. It’s throw it up into the wind and hope for the best.
Woods wound up with the best in 70 of 71 shots today. He birdied the very first hole and then worked some sort of miracle on the fourth, landing a 7-iron approach 40 feet from the cup and then rolling a winder that veered and rumbled and dropped. Fist pump. And that’s when it was clear Woods was going to give this seaside course a fight.
Other golfers couldn’t. One pro, Doug Wade, shot a 93 today. Rickie Fowler shot 80. Rory McIlroy started the day at 5-under and ended up at 2-under. Doom, right? Not quite. He’s now tied for fifth.
How bad was it? Friday’s scoring average, 77.62, was the highest for a single round in PGA Championship history. Only five golfers shot under par Friday, compared to 44 Thursday.
Woods fought through all of it, and aggressively so. On 16, he had a long lag putt from off the green. After scanning it, he reached out a fist to caddie Joe LaCava as the sign to say, “Pull the flag.” He was going for it. Woods rolled it so forcefully that his putt barreled through the green and came to rest on top of a drain. No matter, he still made par.
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On 17, more magic: Woods yanked his drive so far left that it bashed the grandstand. He got lucky – the ball dropped softly into a light cut of rough. LaCava walked up to the ball, looked up at the grandstand and deadpanned, “What’s that doing there?” A mob of fans made a circle around Woods and roared as soon as he hit, walking within inches of him to crane and see where the ball landed. It came to a stop on the green and the entire course could hear the yell. Woods made the putt, pumped his fist, and charged to 18. He was 5-under and in a tie for the lead with Carl Petterson, who had fallen back from -7. He was feeling it now.
As he walked up the final fairway, Woods heard a fan scream, “I love you boy!” He rarely looks into the gallery, but he did this time, smiling and saying, “Thank you.” He had dealt with everything all day – fighting off every weather annoyance imaginable. “I mean, your start lines,” Woods marveled. “Holy Cow, we are starting balls so far off line, to have it come back in. There’s so much drift to this wind.” But by the last hole, the sun had disappeared behind the clouds, leaving a cool, moderately nice evening for Woods to finish. He knocked his approach onto the green and had a putt for birdie and 6-under. He ran it by. He only had four feet left for par and what would be sole possession of the lead. He had that very putt charted in his book. He leaned slightly to the left in his stance, bracing against the wind. He missed.
“I knew that putt ran away from me,” he said afterward. “I still hit it too hard.”
Woods had to tap in for a three-putt, whipping the club in anger after he did so. It was only his second bogey of the day, yet it was another reminder that the old Tiger Woods would never miss that kind of putt.
In a way, Woods’ second round is emblematic of his entire season: He’s played as well as anyone on Tour, he’s shown plenty of flashes of his old touch, and he’s done well enough for any golfer to be satisfied. Any golfer, that is, except himself.
It’s victory or bust in the Tiger Woods world, and so one bad putt actually could make a big difference this weekend. Woods has been outstanding early in majors this season, only to wear down on Saturday and Sunday. A lot of the problem has been on the greens, and Woods has made a remarkable 23 one-putts in the first two rounds here, so there is evidence that this time will be different.
There’s also evidence that while some majors are won by players firing low on Sunday, this is the kind of major where golfers will drop like flies and only two or three pros will have a wisp of a shot in this wind.
Halfway through this championship, Woods has a wisp of a shot. “I’m right there with a chance,” he said. “I like that.”
The question is whether he’ll remember this Friday for the 70 shots that kept him steady or the one single putt that knocked him back.
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