NORTON, Mass. – Tiger Woods watched college football to kill time before his 1:10 p.m. tee time at the Deutsche Bank Championship Saturday, relaxing in the lockerroom with Lucas Glover, Steve Stricker, David Toms and a few other stragglers.
That was appropriate, because Woods was one of six Nike golfers clad in their respective college colors during the second round. It was Nike's way of celebrating the start of the college football season. Tiger wore gray slacks and shoes and a white golf shirt with a cardinal-red "S" on the chest: Stanford.
"Hey, Tiger," Bubba Watson said to Woods on the practice putting green. "Is that 'S' for Sergio? I'm playing with him today. I'll tell him."
"Oh, okay," Woods said, smiling. "Here we go."
Even a marshal zinged him, asking, "Does Stanford have a football team?"
Woods gave a pained smile.
"It's going to be a long day," the marshal said.
As it turned out he was only half right. Woods struggled to an even-par 36 on the front nine on Saturday, but seemed energized by a par save on the par-3 11th and went 4-under the rest of the way.
He is 5-under for the tournament, seven shots behind co-leaders Jim Furyk and Sean O'Hair.
"Now I've got to go low for two rounds," Woods said, "and I'm going to need help."
With huge crowds enjoying a sun-splashed day at TPC Boston, Woods fought the same right miss on the front nine as he did Friday, but rallied after an amazing sand save on 11. His ball was so far up against the hairy top lip of the front bunker it seemed he might not be able to get it out.
But after blasting out almost 20 feet past the hole, he made the putt to save par. At that point he was only 1-under for the tournament, right on the cut line and in danger of going home for Labor Day.
"I started seeing a lot of media guys out there," he said, suggesting that the press might be readying for him to miss the cut. "I thought I'd better turn this thing around and make them go away."
That prompted a few chuckles among scribes assembled outside the scoring trailer behind the 18th green. Woods had made another sandy to birdie the par-5 finisher, but it was a back nine that could have been better. Although he had four birdies, he said, "I lipped out just about every other putt."
"That's the way I'm playing," he said. "They haven't been lipping in, they've been lipping out. I had five lip-outs today. That's about par for the course right now."
Woods played with Steve Stricker and Heath Slocum, the first, second and third point-leaders in the FedEx Cup points race, respectively.
Stricker struggled to a 1-over 72 and finished at 7-under. He will play with fellow Madison, Wis. golfer Jerry Kelly (69) on Sunday.
Slocum shot 73 and at even par missed the cut.
Woods, who will play the third round with U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover (68), was a bit sharper Saturday. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, a day after hitting only eight, and many of his approach shots ended up closer to the pin.
But again he didn't putt well enough, taking 29 strokes on the greens a day after tallying 30.
"You have to make the putts," he said. "You can't out-ball-strike these guys. The equipment is too good now."
The first 36 holes of the Deutsche Bank have merely been the continuation of a trend, because the truth is Woods has been a bit off for the last month. It started when he lost his 36- and 54-hole lead at the PGA, making Y.E. Yang a household name.
Then he failed to hole a seven-foot birdie putt on the last hole at the Barclays last week, a putt that would have tied eventual winner Slocum.
Even Tiger's usual seamless media-management skills seem to have frayed. At the Barclays, he was overheard joking to his pro-am partners that maybe Tom Kite had designed Liberty National prior to getting eye surgery. The quip got leaked to the press and Woods was said to be so furious he stiffed the New York area press after his round Friday.
Then, in an interview leading up to the Deutsche Bank this week, Woods said he bounced back from knee surgery more successfully than Ernie Els did because, "Ernie is not a big worker physically, and that's one of the things you have to do with an ACL repair, is you've got to really do a lot of work."
The comment seemed to come out of nowhere but was a response to the Boston media's curiosity about knee operations, and specifically New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's knee operation.
Woods was right. Els will never be mistaken for Jack LaLane, and everyone on Tour knows it. But the world No. 1 seemed to realize as soon as he said it that his comment would run in the press as "Tiger disses Ernie" (it did), and so Woods backpedaled.
"But Ernie travels all around the world," he said. "More than any other golfer. He plays all over the place, and it's harder for him."
Of course it was too late. Although Els and Woods are friends, and Ernie is no doubt more upset that he shot 75-73 to miss the cut, the quote was another hiccup from Woods, who has built his bulletproof aura around making no such mistakes.
The lost lead at Hazeltine, the missed putt at Liberty National, the failure to control the message, and his image — we're in uncharted territory with Tiger Woods. But it's strangely endearing.
He watches football with the guys? Okay. And Woods not only chatted with Stricker on every hole Saturday, he mixed it up with the fans after driving into them on the par-5 seventh hole. They talked about the fine New England weather, which had Woods regularly toweling the sweat off his face.
"Yeah, it's like this in January," a fan said.
"Oh, really," Woods replied.
After the round, and two TV interviews plus his time on the podium in front of the scribes, Woods walked toward the lockerroom. It was past 6 p.m. Woods was in a nine-way tie for 28th place.
Still, he remained well in front in the FedEx points race. Stanford's football team beat Washington State, 39-13. And Woods could barely walk at this time a year ago. He stopped to sign autographs for a few minutes, perhaps knowing that sometime, somehow, the putts will fall again.
"Everyone goes through stretches like this," he said. "It's not the first time in my career I've gone through this, and I'm sure it won't be the last."