DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Summer has arrived, the second major championship of the year is almost at hand and yet Tiger Woods’ game remains very much a work in progress.
Woods struggled at times but still salvaged a 3-under 69 on Friday in the second round of the Memorial Tournament. At 3-under 141, he easily made the cut.
“It was decent today. I hit more good shots today than I did yesterday, and I really putted well today,” said the Memorial’s only four-time winner. “It could have been a pretty good number.”
That’s the thing about Woods, playing for the first time after missing three weeks due to a neck injury. He could have shot a really low score, but he also could have done far worse. That’s the way golf is when you’ve only played 11 competitive rounds all year.
He took 27 putts, same as the opening round, but this time missed only five greens. Woods hit only 10 greens in the opening round.
Heading to the range with a swing coach is no longer an option for Woods, and not just because of a sore neck. He and Hank Haney split last month, and Woods says he’s trying to work things out on his own. No one in the game is more closely attuned to his swing than Woods. On top of that, he has a trove of videotapes to check past form.
Remember, this is a guy who rebuilt his swing – after dominating the game in 2000 like no one before or since.
Steve Stricker, a good friend and No. 4 to Woods’ No. 1 in the world golf rankings, played with Woods the first 36 holes of the Memorial.
“I think he’s got a little ways to go yet,” Stricker said of Woods’ quest to regain the form that resulted in 14 major championships. “I’ve seen him play some unbelievable golf; we all have. His ability to score is still very, very good – uncanny. But he’s got some work to do – and he would be the first to admit that. But I saw more improvement today. He’s starting to hit shots, it seems, the way he wants to. He’s not driving it very well yet, but that’ll come.”
Woods, who started on the 10th hole, birdied three of his first four holes coming to the reachable par-5 15th hole. He has won almost $4 million in his 11 trips to Muirfield Village Golf Club. One huge reason for that windfall over the years is because Woods dominates the par 5s.
But so far in this Memorial, that hasn’t been the case. He’s just 3 under on those eight par 5s.
Woods’ drive at 15 on Friday caught the right rough and he followed with a rocket of a 3 wood that ended up on the false front of the kidney-shaped green. Faced with a straightforward 90-foot chip shot, he scuffed his club and left himself more than 20 feet for birdie. Then he missed that putt and had to hit a comeback 2-footer to salvage par.
Then there’s the Tiger who makes something good out of something bad.
At the par-5 seventh, Woods sailed a drive into the trees – closer to the backyard of a million-dollar home than to the fairway. After his mammoth gallery made room for a recovery shot, he stung a long iron from the deep rough 195 yards to the fairway, leaving him with a wedge to the green. Then he rolled in the 15-foot birdie putt.
About the only thing consistent about his round was the reaction from the fans. Every hole he received shouts of encouragement from male and female, young and old, and a huge ovation on every quality shot.
In spite of his admission of marital infidelities, Tiger fans remain loyal.
“He’s out here to golf. He’s really not out here to be judged on his personal life. None of us are,” Stricker said. “The thing is that everybody knows (about) it because he’s such a celebrity and he’s one of the best known athletes ever to have lived.”
Stricker said Woods isn’t just trying to change his swing.
“I think he’s changed and I think the people have sensed that,” he said. “He’s trying to accommodate more, he’s trying to acknowledge more. I think people have seen that. You know, we’re all forgiving people. So people are saying, ‘Hey, he made a mistake. He’s working on it. And he’s trying to get better.’ And they’re helping him along in that.”
The U.S. Open looms in two weeks at Pebble Beach, one of Tiger’s favorite tracks. Trailing by 10 shots midway through the Memorial, Woods was grateful to make the cut to gain another 36 holes to work on his game.
“The more good shots I hit, (it) keeps building,” Woods said. “It’s a process.”
And the process is far from over.