Hot irons, cold putter propel Tiger Woods to second-round 67 at Memorial

Hot irons, cold putter propel Tiger Woods to second-round 67 at Memorial

DUBLIN, Ohio — Freshest in the mind after Tiger Woods’s second-round 67 at the Memorial Tournament were the things that weren’t. The misses. The putts that might have been, that usually go, but didn’t today. Let’s start there.

There was the inauspicious opener, a missed four-footer for par at No. 1. There was a 12-footer for birdie that broke across the face of the cup, just shy, at No. 6. Another 12-foot birdie try slid by at 10. Then, play was halted for one hour and 28 minutes as a storm rolled through, interrupting what Woods called “the rhythm of the round.” Whatever the cause, after they resumed came the real ouchies: a missed six-footer at 12, a brutal lipout from five feet at 13, a misread from seven feet at 16, and the worst yet: a missed three-footer at 17.

Consider this: Woods was statistically the best player in the field from tee to green on Friday, gaining more than seven strokes on the field. Once he got to the green? Second-worst, 119th out of 120, giving away nearly four shots to his competitors.

But it’s hardly fair to dwell on the misses when there were so many makes, too, and because by far the most impressive aspect of Woods’s five-under round was that he hit the ball so well it should have been better.

“It could have been easily a nice little 62 or 63,” he said afterwards. “I turned it into a 67.”

Playing partner Justin Rose agreed. “He was taking flag sticks out today which was cool. It was fun to watch. He really should have been four better than he was.”

Let’s get to those positives, then. Friday was the best Woods has hit the ball in the year 2018. His iron and wedge play was magnificent, setting up chance after chance on Muirfield Village’s slick greens. On the day, Woods holed six of those birdie putts plus, most notably, the shot of the day: a 95-yard wedge shot that spun off the slope to the bottom of the cup at No. 11. He played the four par 5s in five under, an eight-shot improvement from Thursday (“I get most improved there,” he said). He surged from the middle of the pack to inside the top 25, playing his way into contention in the process.

Afterwards, it was hard to know just how to feel about his day. Woods seemed not to know, either, though he did his best to explain the putting woes.

“I didn’t feel the putter head flowing, I didn’t feel it releasing,” he said. “These are all normal things I normally feel, but I just didn’t quite have the feel for it.”

Despite his discomfort on the greens, Woods acknowledged just how good he felt swinging the club at Muirfield Friday. “This golf course has been the one that I just have a good feeling about, just the way it shapes with the sight lines and really just everything about it,” he said, and pointed out the success he has had on Nicklaus-designed courses. “I’ve won what, Sherwood about four times, five times, finished second four times. I’ve won at Glen Abbey, Valhalla, here five times.”

Ah, yes. The reminder, not that anyone needed it, that Woods is a five-time champion at this very golf course. He emphasized his good health, too, and a lack of back pain even with Friday’s starting and stopping. Woods enters the weekend six shots back of co-leaders Joaquin Niemann and Kyle Stanley heading to the weekend. It’s hard to count him out; this week’s verdict is still to be written. As for that putter?

“I’m going to go right now and figure it out,” he said, and he meant it: Woods left the podium and headed directly for the practice green.

 

 

You can watch highlights of his round below.

At No. 3, Woods caught a break when his approach shot bounded off a knob just long of the green and spun back to five feet, a putt he converted.

Woods kept the good times rolling through the rest of Muirfield Village’s scorable front nine. After missing the par-5 5th long and right, he judged a lag putt from the fairway to near perfection, leaving just a kick-in for birdie. He made things slightly harder on himself at No. 7, flying his approach into the back bunker at the par 5. But that was no problem, either: Woods perfectly nipped his approach from the sand, nearly rolling the ball into the hole.

At No. 9, Woods pulled his two-iron tee shot left of the fairway but caught a fortunate break: the ball caromed off an overhanging limb and redirected into the fairway. He took full advantage, lofting his approach shot over the water and bunker guarding the far left pin before settling 15 feet away. His putt up the hill slowed and turned just left-to-right, falling in the center of the cup.

Woods barely missed from 12 feet at No. 10, then over-cut his driver off the 11th tee, a mistake that forced him to lay up on the reachable par 5. No matter: Woods holed that one from 95 yards, spinning his wedge off the back slope and into the cup.

How’s this for a follow-up: Woods’s very next shot hit the flag, too. He stiffed his tee shot at the par-3 12th, grazing the flag before settling to six feet. That’s when Tour staff made the announcement that play would be suspended. Woods took a careful look at his putt but ultimately headed into the clubhouse, leaving his birdie attempt until the rain cleared. When he came back out, the putter had gone cold and he missed the short look, plus three more coming in.

Still, he poured in this birdie putt from the fringe at No. 15, completing a masterful effort on the par 5s.