Tiger Woods hit the ball like one of the game's elite players throughout his Friday morning round at the Wells Fargo Championship — but for 17 holes, he was betrayed by his putter.
It wasn't until the final hole of the day that he made a putt outside six feet, but he made that one count: a 13-footer for birdie on No. 9 left him two over for the day and for the tournament, exactly one shot inside the projected cut line.
Woods's frustrating day on the greens began at the par-5 10th, where he missed a 12-footer for birdie well short and low of the hole. He followed that up with misses on 11 (from eight feet, for par), 12 (from 11 feet, for birdie) 13 (from 12 feet, for birdie) and 14 (from seven feet, for par), leaving himself two over par through five holes. Part of his issue seemed to come from judging the speed of the greens; many of his putts from short range ran out of energy.
Woods tried to explain the difficulties on the greens after his round, citing some disparity between the springiness of the greens and their relative lack of speed. "That's not a combo that you find very often, where they're firm but on the slower side," he said.
“If I can just putt — literally, if I just putt normal, I'm probably five or six under par," he said. "I've missed so many putts. Putts I missed yesterday, I was blocking them, trying to hit them the right pace. Today, I was pulling them, trying to hit them harder, try to put more hit in my stroke and release the toe of my putter, and I just wasn't doing it right today.”
There was plenty that looked good from Woods's game on the challenging Quail Hollow layout. He was hitting 3 wood more than 300 yards off the tee, his driver even further, and smoking his reliable 2-iron stinger around the Charlotte layout.
"I just can't believe how long this golf course has become," he said. "They've made some adjustments, they've made it more difficult; harder, longer." But it was the shortest shots of the day that continued to frustrate Woods.
After two great shots into No. 18, Woods looked bewildered by a missed eight-footer for birdie, but he looked to right the ship with short par saves at Nos. 1, 2, and 3. But the balky putter struck again at the par-3 sixth hole, where Woods hit one of the best tee shots of the day but then three-putted from 15 feet, again perplexed by a four-footer that missed the hole well left.
Again and again Woods gave himself chances, but at each turn he and his Scotty Cameron looked out of sync. Woods spun a neat wedge shot off a backstop and down to six feet on the par-5 seventh but missed that one, too, and the cut line began to loom.
But a smoked driver and wedge at his final hole of the day left him staring down a left-to-righter down the hill. When that fell into the center of the cup, he raised his arms as if to say "finally!" and grinned in relief.
The numbers still weren't impressive: Woods made less than 50 feet of total putts on Friday and ranked nearly last in the field in strokes gained: putting. But with difficult conditions and wind looming on Friday afternoon, Woods will be just one spectacular Saturday away from contention.
After the round, Woods was off to the putting green. "I'm gonna try to get a little mroe hit in the stroke," he said. "I have to trust it, what I keep telling myself, but the feels are telling me another thing."