PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – After stalking one last birdie putt, Tiger Woods watched the ball catch the edge of the hole and drop. He offered a trademark fist pump, and listened as the greenside crowd offered a thunderous applause.
Just like old times, right?
Except this was the second round of The Players Championship, not the final round. And the putt was on the ninth green instead of the 18th, and the final shot of the day was not to win another title, but instead simply to survive the 36-hole cut.
Woods’ 1-under 71 was a roller coaster worthy of theme-park admission, but it was good enough to earn him a weekend tee time at TPC Sawgrass. A step in the right direction, sure, but also a stark reminder of how far the former world No. 1 has fallen.
“I haven’t gotten anything out of my rounds,” Woods said for the second consecutive day. “I should be a few under par each day, and I’m just not capitalizing on my opportunities, and I need to start doing that.”
Woods’ second-round adventure included five bogeys and six birdies. After starting the day at 1 over, he never got into red figures and instead spent the entire round bouncing inside and outside of the projected cut line.
After a bogey on No. 7, his 16th hole of the day, dropped Woods back to 1 over, he came to the par-5 ninth knowing a birdie was needed to make the cut. After hitting a 101-yard approach to 9 feet, he converted the putt – just his third make of the day over 4 feet.
Woods had plenty of wayward shots, hitting 10 of 18 greens for the second straight day, and he believes the key to success is improving the proximity on his approach shots.
“I’m just not stuffing them in there. I’m hitting them 15 feet when they should be under 10,” Woods said. “I need to do a better job of that, getting the ball close, because these greens are slow right now and you can capitalize on the speed of the greens. You can be really aggressive with the putts.”
The stat line, though, seems to indicate that the issue is not creating more birdies – it’s limiting mistakes. Woods has made 11 birdies through two rounds, bettered only by Kevin Na (12), who leads the tournament.
Much like the first round, Woods offered up some head-scratching swings, notably on No. 1 where his pull-hook 3-wood didn’t make it to the start of the fairway after clipping a tree. He alternated birdie with bogey on consecutive holes on three different occasions.
“It was one of those things where as I said I couldn’t capitalize on some of the opportunities and get on a run,” he said. “I felt like I drove it pretty good today overall, but I just wasn’t hitting the ball close enough.”
While Woods appears to have made the cut by the narrowest of margins, he still sits only eight shots behind Na on a bunched leaderboard.
“Anyone who makes the cut certainly has a chance on this golf course,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing well enough to get myself up there. I just need one good round and narrow up that gap between myself and the lead, and I feel like I can do that.”
There was cause for celebration Friday, as an optimistic Woods grinded to guarantee two more “reps” on the Stadium Course. After the rough start to the season, it’s certainly a sign of progress – but it’s also a reminder that the rubric by which we grade his performances has changed dramatically.