TULSA, Okla. – It was a film with all the required elements: drama, intrigue, failure and, finally, redemption.
That’s how it went nearly every week for Tiger Woods for the better part of two decades. It was a parade of towering performances with a common end – victory.
This Friday was different.
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Friday was not a victory for Woods; this moving target still seems like a distant reality, but it had a familiar feel.
After starting the day at 4 over par, Round 2 was always going to be a battle against the cup after an opener of 74 at the PGA Championship. He birdied the fifth hole from 5 feet to move two shots inside the weekend line but missed on the eighth. The latter being the result of a 224-yard par-3 tee shot that traveled 250 yards, returning to the bubble in the process.
The back and forth continued with a birdie on the 10th hole followed by a botched double bogey-5 on the 11th – another tee shot that robbed two clubs too long to clear the cut line.
“The cut was going to be between 3 and 4 [over] at first, then with the wind pumping like that, I thought it might drop to 4, and it happened,” Woods said.
Birdies to ours. 13 and 16 finally secured him a weekend start time in Southern Hills, but ending the story there ignores Tiger’s brilliance – even the latest version, which has been hampered by multiple leg surgeries. right since last year’s horrific car accident in Los Angeles. .
There was the 14-footer to save the par on the 14th hole. Then a back and forth for the ages from the bunker behind the par-4 15th that drew a rare smile on what was, by all accounts, another painfully difficult day.
“It was a tasty little bunker shot there. It was a good one. I liked that one. I didn’t like getting into it, but I liked executing the shot,” he smiles.
Whether he’s playing for the majors or just making the cut, it’s the same DNA, and it was glorious on a wet Friday.
No, it wasn’t easy, but nothing seems easier for the 15-time major champion. He returned to competition at last month’s Masters, but it was clear the rebuilt stage was well below 100%, and it doesn’t look like things have improved much.
The toll of countless surgeries and years of unbridled effort was on full display as Tiger warmed up for round two of the second major championship of the year.
The large scoreboard adjacent to the practice field told a telling story as Tiger finished his warm-up with a few practices. The first attempt recorded a ball speed of 170 mph and a carry of 265 yards up a hill and in healthy wind. The next went 176 mph and carried 273 yards. Warming up next to Tiger on the range, Rory McIlroy – who shot with Woods and Jordan Spieth the first two rounds – hit a ball speed of 179 mph and a reach of 288 yards… with a 3 wood.
Tiger’s effort was even more evident as he raced down the hill from the first tee with a clear limp and his driver acted as a one-two.
“Watching him yesterday, if it had been me I would have considered retiring and going home, but Tiger is different and he proved he is different,” McIlroy marveled after the second round. “It was just a monumental effort.”
It won’t be any easier for Tiger on Saturday, when temperatures are expected to drop following a passing cold front. A forecast that calls for temperatures in the 60s and a milder golf course isn’t the best case for a guy who admits he needs a lot of trail to get the body moving.
“I had a great [physical therapy] the staff that put Humpty Dumpty back together, and we’re going there tomorrow and hopefully I can do something like what [Bubba Watson who shot a second-round 63] done today,” Woods said.
Tiger’s 4-footer for the birdie on the 16th hole was a much-needed cushion with the soul of Southern Hills looming, but it did nothing to ease the climb back to the iconic clubhouse. Then again, he was never shy about taking on a challenge, whether it was winning 15 majors or working his way to a weekend tee time.
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