DORAL, Fla. As Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell began their second round Friday afternoon at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, it felt, just for a moment, like there was magic in the air. The sun was out. The breeze was light. The bleachers were packed. The ovations were spirited. All three players made birdies on the opening hole, with Tiger canning the longest putt, a 15-footer. For this star-studded threesome, it had the makings of a fun afternoon.
Moments after his opening birdie, Woods grabbed his driver on the tee at No. 2, a 418-yard par 4, and attempted to hit the ball low, under the freshening wind. Instead, his clubhead smacked the ground before the ball, and the result was a gruesome snap-hook-topper. The ball never got airborne as it skidded into the left rough and stopped, according to PGA Tour stats, 122 yards away.
The surrounding gallery gasped, and one man blurted to his buddy, "I could've done that." Woods, had he been listening, could've heard this. Instead, he clutched his driver in his right hand and cocked it over his shoulder as if he was about to slam it straight down into the turf ... then he stopped himself.
After a 122-yard march, Woods may have noticed that his ball had failed to pass the women's tee box. Many amateurs have a special rule for this situation, but PGA Tour pros simply play on. Woods responded by powering his second shot nearly 270 yards just right of the green, then made a poor chip and two-putted for a bogey.
After the round, Woods recalled another instance when he hit such a poor tee shot.
"I've done it before," he said. "It's not the first time I hit a snipe. I did it at the Masters. It is what it is. I left myself with an opportunity to make par, and perfect angle and hit a bad pitch."
On his next hole Woods piped a 3-wood and made birdie. He did not make a par until the sixth hole (after three bogeys and two birdies), and was wild with several other tee shots. Mickelson and McDowell also had lackluster opening nines. Mickelson went out in even-par 36, and McDowell stumbled to a 38.
"The demeanor out there, all three of us, was pretty good," McDowell said. "But it was a bit of a flat day all around. No one really did anything."
On the par-4 14th, Woods chunked another tee shot, this one with a 3-wood, and the pop-up was officially recorded at 188 yards. Woods was able to scramble and par the hole.
McDowell admitted that he noticed Tiger's follies off the tee.
"It's pretty tough not to have a giggle we all hit bad shots," McDowell said. "You know, if he would've made a 4 on No. 2 we would probably have given him a bit of crap for it. But since he made bogey, we didn't really want to cross that line."
At times, particularly when he had to escape trouble, Woods was sharp. In fact, despite the two Looney Tunes tee shots, Woods's putter was his real undoing. He missed numerous birdie chances inside 15 feet, and in a 66-man field Woods is currently ranked 64th in putting. On Friday he signed for a two-over 74 and sits in a tie for 34th place at even par for the tournament.
"You just have to keep grinding, keep working," Woods said. "If I putt normal today, I'm three or four under. It's not that bad."
Playing with Woods for the second straight day, neither McDowell nor Mickelson suffered the indignity of a duffed tee shot, but both failed to climb into contention. Mickelson shot 71 to match Woods at even par for the tournament, and the two will be paired together again on Saturday. McDowell made four bogeys and three birdies for a 73 and is currently tied for 28th at one under.
"We dragged each other down a little bit today," McDowell said. "We started off with a beautiful crowd on the front nine I wasn't surprised to see it dwindle in the back nine.
"I think they got a little bored with us, perhaps."