DUBLIN, Ohio – In the old days, this tournament would be O-V-E-R.
In the old days, they could back up the Brinks truck, sign the oversized check and issue a standing eight count to the rest of the field.
In the old days, all that would have remained until a Jack Nicklaus congratulatory handshake was a weekend coronation that included all the drama of a pair of victory laps.
That’s because in the old days, anytime Tiger Woods was stalking the leaderboard through two rounds of the Memorial Tournament, it meant game, set and match.
It was especially true at a course on which he’s won four different titles and when only two of his fellow top half-dozen on the board owned more than one career win.
In case you haven’t noticed, these aren’t the old days.
Going into the final two rounds at the Memorial Tournament, Woods is 5 under following scores of 70-69 and in a three-way tie for second alongside Spencer Levin and Scott Stallings, one shot back from 36-hole leader Rory Sabbatini.
Woods is smack dab on a tightly bunched leaderboard that includes proven winners in Jim Furyk and Sabbatini, but also shows relative unknowns in Levin and Stallings. And yet, based on Woods' track record over the past three seasons, a fifth career victory here at Muirfield Village is hardly a foregone conclusion.
These are merely the facts.
Don’t misinterpret them.
Just because Woods failed to stake claim to an inevitable victory on Friday doesn’t mean he won’t or can’t win a fifth Memorial Tournament trophy come Sunday evening.
If anything, the great unknown only makes the next 36 holes all the more fascinating.
When Woods was prevailing over every other competitor in those aforementioned old days – he won this tournament in 1999, 2000, ’01 and ’09 – simply getting his name onto the leaderboard usually ensured victory. In fact, during that quartet of triumphs he defeated the next closest contender by a combined 15 strokes.
Unless you’ve been living on Planet Nogolf for the past three years, you’ve witnessed a sharp decline in his winning percentage. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Woods owns just one official PGA Tour victory, nabbing the Arnold Palmer Invitational three months ago.
Even so, that lone win at Bay Hill proved that Tiger still owns not just the desire and talent to triumph at big-time events, but the physical tools, technical necessities, mental fortitude and invaluable intangibles that so often led to runaways.
They are all qualities he has shown through two rounds so far this week. Playing in virtually opposite conditions – Thursday morning was warm and calm; Friday afternoon was chilly and breezy – Woods is displaying form that has often eluded him in recent months and years. Too often, he’s driven the ball well, but struggled with chipping, or owned excellent distance control, but couldn’t hole any putts.
This week, he’s doing a little bit of everything. So far, he ranks 13th in the field in driving distance; 38th in driving accuracy; second in greens in regulation and 25th in putting average.
“I'm very pleased with the way I was able to hit the golf ball today,” Woods said after a second round that included five birdies and a double bogey. “I hit the ball well all day. It was a day that I needed to. The wind was blowing out there, was swirling in those trees, and it was just a tough day. Granted, the greens were softer, but still, the wind was a little bit of a test. With these pin locations today, some were pretty hard; only a few were accessible. But I figured anything under par was going to be a good score, and I was able to post something in the 60s.”
These aren’t the old days.
The way he has played so far, though, they sure look like 'em.
There won’t be a weekend coronation nor is victory an inevitability, but with two closing rounds like the two openers, Tiger Woods may still pronounce this week’s edition of the Memorial Tournament to be O-V-E-R before it’s actually over.