SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — On another fog-delayed day at Whistling Straits, Tiger Woods was running to stand still, making pars on all six holes he played before darkness called his second round to a halt. Woods stands seven strokes behind leader Matt Kuchar at one-under-par.
“It was tough out there,” Woods said. “[The wind was] blowing pretty good. Had to be patient.”
Because of the fog delay — coming on top of Thursday’s delay, which meant half the field still had to complete their first rounds on Friday morning — Woods didn’t tee off until 5:45 p.m. local time. His abbreviated outing ended at 7:36 p.m. on a sour note: a short birdie putt on the sixth hole horseshoed out. But he earned most of his pars with some epic scrambling.
“That’s the way it was, had to hang in there and did a good job with that,” he said. “You know, unfortunately I missed a short one there at the last one I played, but other than that, it was all right.”
If Thursday was Woods’s Rocky Balboa round — a rousing comeback after the worst performance of his career last week at the Bridgestone Invitational — then on Friday he was channeling Harry Houdini, thrilling fans by conjuring amazing escapes after putting himself in perilous positions.
On the 598-yard, par-5, fifth hole, where the fairway snakes between two ponds, Woods drove it in the nasty grass and sand right of the fairway. He flubbed his second shot, advancing the ball only about 60 yards and failing to escape the fescue. But Woods recovered by muscling a super-high wedge shot to the right of the green and two-putting for a remarkable par.
“It was a weird tee shot with the wind the way it is, and you hit either 3-wood, driver, take something off it, it’s going in the water. It was a good five,” Woods said in his brief post-round comments. How brief were those comments? You have now read them in their entirety.
It was indeed a good five, but it wasn’t even his best five of the day. On the par-5 second hole, Woods drove his tee shot into a right fairway bunker that is so steep Kelly Slater could surf it. He tried to hit a wedge over the face of the bunker, but his ball caught the lip and ricocheted right, down a ridge and finishing on the cart path about 220 yards from the hole. It took several minutes to clear all the fans and photographers so Woods could have a clear shot at the green.
The fans that risked injury for a close-up view of Woods’ next shot were not disappointed. He hit a missile from the cart path that finished pin-high, about 20 feet off the right side of the green. The shot was greeted with an enormous roar that had barely died down by the time he chipped up and tapped in his par putt. It was one of those special, only-Tiger-can-do-that moments, which helped explain why hundreds of fans were following Woods despite the growing darkness and threats of rain on a course a good hour’s drive from anywhere.
“That went right over the side of my head,” one dazed fan said, as he cheered Woods’s shot.
The wind was blowing steadily throughout the round, in which Woods played with fellow PGA Championship winners Vijay Singh and Y.E. Yang. Lake Michigan finally showed small white caps late in the afternoon, after being as calm as an Orlando swimming pool on Thursday. Singh, who won the title at Whistling Straits in 2004, played the best among the group on Friday, making birdies on Nos. 2 and 3 and an eagle on 6 to end his day at 2-under.
Yang, who defeated Woods last year at Hazeltine, got the best of him Friday, too, ending at 1-under par with a birdie on his last hole. That sixth hole was the only time Woods showed any frustration during his round. The downwind, 355-yard, par 4 was easily reachable, but Woods hit his 3-wood into gnarly rough in front of the green. Walking to his ball, he turned his club into a Weed Whacker, swinging baseball-style at high marsh grass as he passed. He executed another masterly, soft pitch with his second shot, which stopped about 4 feet past the front pin, only to see his birdie bid do a 360-degree lip-out.
Despite the disappointing finish, Woods may have one advantage: the favorable end of the draw. When he resumes his second round on the seventh tee at 7 a.m. Central time Saturday, he’ll likely find a rain-softened course with very little wind, which should be receptive to low scores.
But that is Saturday. On Friday Woods was just trying to get home. After the horn sounded to end play, Woods, Singh and Yang each got in to silver Mercedes GL450s to ride back to the clubhouse. But the cars made little progress as hundreds of fans trudged to the parking lot along the same road. Fans walked especially slowly by Woods’s car to shout encouragement.
That’s one of the problems of being Tiger Woods. People will put themselves in harm’s way to be closer to you.