AKRON, Ohio – Tiger Woods took a mighty lash with his driver on the 14th tee Friday morning and immediately dropped his head in disgust as the ball sailed left of the fairway and landed in an awaiting bunker. He then walked the 290 yards with that club in hand, looking like he was assessing a place to bury it.
Three holes later, he missed a birdie attempt from eight feet away, then stomped in the direction of the next teebox. About halfway there, he slammed the shaft of the putter into the palm of his outstretched left hand while muttering a few choice words to himself.
It’s been said that a good craftsman doesn’t blame his tools and while Woods took full responsibility for a 1-over 71 in the second round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, he wasn’t above doling out some punishment to his clubs in the process.
Those two clubs, in particular.
For the round, Woods used the driver nine times and found only one fairway. At least he was equitable, though, missing big to both the right and the left on multiple occasions.
Afterward, he didn’t single out his inability to drive it straight as the main reason for his struggles. No, this one was a bit of everything.
“It wasn't just the driver,” he explained. “It was just everything. I didn't hit it good in warmup. Sometimes it's just warmup and then you go out and hit it great on the golf course. That wasn't the case today.”
He also thwarted any notion that he would actually bury the big stick – or at least let caddie Joe LaCava leave it in the trunk of the courtesy car.
Woods maintained that on a soft course, he needs the driver to give himself a chance.
“I've got to get it out there because it's so soft; it's just not running,” he said. “I picked up a couple of mud balls today. … It's going to only be worse on Sunday if we get the weather we're supposed to have tomorrow.”
It could be argued that on his best days, Woods could win golf tournaments with only 12 clubs in the bag. It would be difficult to argue, however, that those two excluded clubs could be the driver and putter.
One day after taking 28 swipes with the flat stick, he needed 29 total putts. That includes a mark of 1-for-10 from outside of 10 feet, nearly mirroring his driving accuracy percentage.
“Bad speed, bad line,” Woods smiled in explanation of his issues on the greens. “Other than that, it was alright.”
On a day when nothing seemed to go his way, when 71 felt like 66 or 67, it’s equal parts surprising and confusing that he actually could have scored much better.
His problems from outside of 10 feet are excusable, but Woods also missed three from inside that length.
“If I would have putted like I did yesterday, which is just normal, it's a 2-3 under round,” he said. “But I missed a bunch of putts under 15 feet, and they weren't even close – that's the problem. It's not like they had the ‘go‑in’ look. They just weren't very good.”
Not to add insult to a guy still returning from injury, but it should be noted that on this day a year ago, Woods posted a score 10 strokes lower, leading to a weekend that was nothing more than a 36-hole victory march.
If the driver and the putter and everything in between was the bad news on this Friday, the good news was that, at 1 under overall entering the weekend, Woods is still within shouting distance from a ninth career title here at Firestone.
And perhaps better news was that after the round, after spraying so many drives and mishitting so many putts, he still believes he can post a few low scores in the final two rounds to make that happen.
“Absolutely,” he said matter-of-factly. “You've just got to go ahead and do it. It's certainly getable out there. Right now it's soft and we're going to get weather coming in tomorrow, and that will soften it up even more. You’re going to see, the way this golf course is set up right now, a bunch of guys stacked up. It's going to be a varied bunch going into Sunday.”
From wayward drives to balky putts, Woods’ performance looked a lot worse than the scorecard showed. For many observers, “Old Tiger” was the guy who posted mercurial rounds of 61, like last year. Too often we forget, though, that his ability to grind a bad day into an acceptable score was just as much of a hallmark.
On this day, in his third event back from surgery, that was the biggest positive to take out of a round when he clearly didn’t have his best stuff.