AKRON, Ohio — One word that has never been used to describe the South Course at Firestone Country Club is fun. There isn’t another place on the PGA Tour, other than any U.S. Open site or possibly the Masters, where poor play is punished so severely.
The South Course has narrow, tree-lined fairways. The greens aren’t huge, but those trees are. The rough is almost always lush and thick.
So maybe it’s understandable that Tiger Woods doesn’t appear to be enjoying himself this week at the Bridgestone Invitational. Coming to the South Course without your A game — or even your B game — is like a trip to the dentist for a root canal.
Friday didn’t go any smoother than Thursday for Woods, who struggled through another difficult round. He actually struck the ball worse in the second round than he did in the first, but he scored better, pairing a two-over 72 with his opening 74. (He’ll still make the weekend, as will the entire field; it’s a no-cut event.)
On Thursday, Tiger had a defeated look that bordered on uninterested, and he played like it. On the opening hole, he pulled his drive into the left trees, took very little time before he blew his recovery shot into the right greenside bunker, stepped into the sand and casually played a splash shot that came up 40 feet short. He two-putted for bogey. It was reminiscent of the Quail Hollow Championship, where Tiger seemed out of sorts and missed the cut with a Friday 79, which included a back-nine 43.
He’s looked like he’d rather be anywhere else than Firestone, a course that he has historically owned, winning seven times in his last nine appearances here. Woods tried to put some spin on his round Thursday when he spoke with reporters after a tough day. He spoke about how surprised he was that he hit it poorly after a good warm-up session. Observers at the range, however, said Woods hit it poorly there, too. Woods is prone to revisionist history, and this seemed another example.
Tiger seemed more determined on Friday. He sprayed the ball all over the course again but shot even-par 35 on the back nine, his opening side. It was classic Tiger in that he easily could’ve shot four or five over if his scrambling abilities weren’t so good. A good example was the par-4 14th hole, where he sent his drive into a fairway bunker and had to play a 40-yard hook to get in the greenside bunker. He was short-sided — the pin was on the right side of the green — but he splashed the ball out to 10 feet and made the par putt like the Tiger of old.
He bogeyed the 18th, missing the fairway right, which resulted in missing the green short and left. Then he bogeyed two of the next three holes. At No. 1, he blocked a drive way right, hit into the right greenside bunker and couldn’t get up and down. He parred the par-5 second despite never visiting the fairway, and another visit to the right rough cost him a bogey at the third hole, too.
Tiger hit five fairways and 11 greens in regulation in the opening round, and only three fairways and seven greens in the second round. He has yet to birdie a par-5.
This is not progress.
He hacked out of the rough at the ninth, his final hole, and couldn’t reach the green in two. He pitched his third shot to 15 feet and missed the putt.
The disturbing thing about his recent play is that Woods has struggled with all parts of his game. It appeared that he found something in his swing at the British Open, where he “drove it on a string,” in his words, but he struggled with his putting. For two days at Firestone, both his putting and his ballstriking have been off.
The PGA Championship is next week. It will be a tall order for Tiger to turn things around by then. He’s got two more rounds to play on the weekend, two more chances to find his game, to find something, as he tries to salvage what can only be considered a lost year so far. At the moment he finished, he was at six over par and beating only five other players in the 81-man field.
The Ryder Cup? That’s so far on the back burner among his pressing issues, it’s no wonder he doesn’t want to discuss it. The man has to find a golf swing first. And a putting stroke.
After Tiger emerged from the scoring trailer early Friday afternoon, a Tour media official, who seemed resigned to the inevitable answer, asked if Woods wanted to do a media interview. “F— no,” Woods answered, in a joking tone of voice. How about a TV interview? “F— no,” Woods repeated.
It was understandable. Firestone is a place that tests your game. It’s not a place to find your game if you arrived with it in tatters. A few moments later, Woods pulled out of the player parking lot in his courtesy Lexus SUV and drove away.