Woods struggles with putter, remains optimistic at Firestone

Woods struggles with putter, remains optimistic at Firestone

Tiger Woods took 29 putts on Friday.
Fred Vuich/SI

AKRON, Ohio — The comeback, if that’s what you want to call it, of Tiger Woods is going to go as far as his putter takes him.

On Thursday, his putter transported him into contention with a two-under 68. Friday, it took him over par — a one-over 71 — and left him mired in the middle of the 76-man Bridgestone Invitational pack.

On a second day of low scoring due to soft greens and absolutely no wind, Tiger’s 71 was disappointing. Once again, his ball-striking was pretty solid, but this time his putting wasn’t, especially during a notable gaffe at the 14th hole, where he missed a two-footer for par after laying up from a fairway bunker.

Still, his 71 was pretty decent and filled with signs that Woods is on the right track. The timeworn complaint of golfers is that they played better than their score indicated, but that’s exactly what Woods did.

After two rounds, he has shown positive signs of regaining his game. You have to be bullish on his long-term future based on what he’s shown so far. His swing looks better, more balanced. He isn’t dropping his head during his swing like he was last year. He’s had one good day with the putter and one bad day. So at least he’s capable of good days.

Of course, the bottom line for Tiger is winning, and he hasn’t put himself in a position to do that so far. When he finished in the early afternoon, the tournament lead was eight under par, shared by Ryan Moore, Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott. So Tiger was looking at making up seven shots over 36 holes. Not unrealistic, especially in a small field like this one.

His immediate need is to turn around his putting. “Yeah, today was not very good,” Woods said after his round. “My path wasn’t very good going back. It was underneath the path and under the plane and it was just not very good.”

On that short miss at 14, Woods said his putter blade went back inside his intended path and it was going to go left of the target, so he overcompensated and blocked it right to try to get it back on line. “I over-cooked it,” he said. “I did the same thing on eight, too, the same deal. Got to work on that a little bit.”

Woods was back using the familiar Scotty Cameron putter model this week that he used for much of his career after a spell earlier this year when he tried some new Nike models.

But while he admitted his putting needs work, Woods sounded enthused about the way he is striking the ball. He’s hitting it better with more power and, therefore, having some problems controlling the distances of some shots.

“I’m hitting the ball so much farther,” he said. “I got so much more compression, the ball is just going and I’ve got to get used to that and trust the number. I’m hitting the ball numbers I’ve never hit before.”

The downhill slopes at Firestone Country Club can twist the yardage numbers, but they’re still impressive. Tiger’s tee shots at the eighth and ninth holes Friday traveled 339 and 326 yards, respectively. His tee shot at 16 went 315, his tee ball at the 18th went 317 and the one at the sixth was 326. His overall average for the round was 298, which includes tee shots where he’s hitting something other than driver. The point is, Tiger is not hitting it short.

He also hit eight fairways, three more than the first round, and 11 greens, one fewer than Thursday. He’s had 56 putts, 29 in the second round.

“The pins were slightly more difficult and these greens are getting a little chewed up,” Woods said. “They’re soft. We’ve had some rain and even though we were in the morning wave, Darren [Clarke] and I were talking about how the ball is bouncing a little bit. The afternoon guys aren’t going to have smooth greens and the pins are slightly more difficult.”

His post-round plans were simple, “Go hit more balls and more putting.”

Woods showed good resiliency Friday. He bogeyed the 14th and 15th holes — his fifth and sixth holes since Woods started on No. 10 — to drop to two over par, then birdied the next two holes. He bogeyed the fourth hole after driving into the left trees and eventually missing a 20-footer for par but birdied the par-3 fifth from seven feet.

Then came the sixth hole — his 15th — where he drove it into the right trees, hit long and left of the green into a bunker and then played a poor bunker shot to just off the front edge of the green. From there, Woods three-putted for double, missing a six-footer for bogey. A birdie at the seventh took the edge off the mistake, then he parred the last two holes for 71.

Woods was curt with a few writers after the round when they tried to suggest that winning didn’t necessarily have to be his goal this week after all the time off and the injuries.

“Why show up at a tournament if you’re not there to win?” Woods said. “There’s no reason to come.”

When a writer followed up and said, “There are other guys who came back from injury,” Woods didn’t let him finish. He interrupted sternly, saying, “I’m not other guys.”

As for assessing his overall feeling on his round Friday, he softened and said, “That’s a tough question. I just didn’t make as many putts today but I’m close to putting it together.”

Tee times are moved up on Saturday due to storms expected in the afternoon. Woods will tee off at 7 a.m. with Ian Poulter and Bubba Watson. The golf will be shown on tape-delay from 2-6 p.m. on CBS.