CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The birdie putt that put Tiger Woods in control at the Quail Hollow Championship was 55 feet up the slope on the ninth green, trucking so fast toward the hole that it slammed into the back of the cup and went airborne before dropping.
“It would have been in the grandstands if it didn’t hit the hole,” he said.
The putt that dropped him out of the lead was just over 5 feet, and crawled along like a snail.
That one came at the 15th hole, a blown opportunity for birdie, and Woods followed that with a tee shot into the trees for a bogey, and a three-putt bogey on the 18th hole from 90 feet that set the tone for the weekend at the Quail Hollow.
Fortunes can turn quickly.
It was just like any other tournament for Bubba Watson, a big hitter who only gets noticed for the pink shaft in his driver, when he fired off four birdies and an eagle to match the tournament record with a 30 on the front nine, giving him a 7-under 65 and a share of the lead with two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.
They were at 8-under 136.
Former Masters champion Zach Johnson was the only player to reach 10-under par, but that didn’t last long. He bogeyed his last three holes for a 67 and was one shot behind, in the group with Woods (72), George McNeill (68) and Jim Furyk (66).
What they had in common on a steamy Friday with swirling wind was that all of them were atop the leaderboard at some point, along with early starters Robert Karlsson and Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson might have stayed there, but he four-putted for double bogey from 40 feet on the 17th hole, which slowed his momentum. Stranger still was a two-putt par on the fourth hole, only because it required two clubs from the putting surface – the first a 64-degree sand wedge so he wouldn’t have to contend with a steep slope, the other a conventional putter from 5 feet for the par.
“My round was a bit more exciting than I wanted it to be,” Mickelson said after a 71.
He will play the third round with Camilo Villegas, who had a 67, adding to the list of possibilities over the final 36 holes.
Woods will be playing the third straight day with Furyk, which might have been surprising a day earlier when Furyk was 2 over with five holes remaining in his first round, and Woods was streaking toward a 65.
“I just kind of hung in there and had two real good streak of birdies,” Furyk said.
Ten players were separated by two shots, and only two of them – Watson and Jason Dufner – have never won on the PGA Tour.
Watson is famous for not winning. The only reason he made it to the PGA Tour was because Jason Gore won three times on the Nationwide Tour in 2005 to earn an instant promotion to the big leagues, and the tour decided he shouldn’t count toward the 20 top players on the Nationwide money list. Watson was No. 21 that year.
Watson can be hard to figure out.
He loves to be in the company of Woods, so he tries to play as many practice rounds as possible. He put a hot pink shaft in his driver. He grew his hair long this year, walking out to the practice range in Hawaii without a hat for all to see.
But he says he doesn’t like the attention.
And he really doesn’t like cameras.
“It’s just because I play golf because I love the golf courses, I love to play, and now I’ve got all these strangers staring at me,” Watson said. “I get nervous around people.”
Not to worry.
Late in the afternoon, it appeared he would be paired with Woods in the final group at 8 under. But then Goosen hit a 6-iron into 20 feet for birdie on his final hole for a 68 to join the lead, and Woods fell out with his bogey on the last hole.
Watching from the press center was Watson’s wife, who said quietly as she looked on television as Woods lined up his 90-foot birdie putt, “I hope Bubba doesn’t play with him. I want to be able to watch.”
Angie Watson, who played professional basketball in Europe and is about 6-foot-3, typically doesn’t have trouble seeing anything. But the crowds at Quail Hollow have been enormous, as always, and Woods in a final group brings a full house.
There will be plenty of options Saturday – Woods and Furyk, playing behind the group of Mickelson-Villegas, with the chatty Watson in the final group with a stoic South African, Goosen.
It’s entertainment for the fans, but serious business for the players.
There is no rough this year – 2 inches, but it seems even shorter – so players can go for any green. But the greens are super slick and firm, and it has been tough to get the ball near the hole.
Sure, there have been loads of birdies and eagle, but just as many bogeys or worse to keep everyone in check.
“This is reminiscent of what we see at The Players Championship,” Woods said. “Guys really don’t go forward.”