KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Like all good tragedies, this story is more compelling at the end, so let’s start at the bottom of the leaderboard and work our way up to the likes of Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh at the top.
Ah, yes. Bottom’s up. No doubt that will be a popular refrain this weekend for Doug Wade, an affable club pro from Dayton, Ohio, who shot 93 on Friday – one stroke off the worst score in PGA Championship history. And Michael Frye, an assistant pro from Sedona, Ariz., who bested him by three shots despite a quad, two triples, three doubles and a partridge in a pear tree. And D.A. Points, who plays the PGA Tour for a living, though it wasn’t evidenced by his 13-over start through the first seven holes.
If misery loves company, then there may have been an entire congregation of players holding hands in the locker room singing “Kumbaya” together. In the second round at the Ocean Course, the buzzword of the day went from “Paspalum” to “carnage” as tempestuous, blustery winds prompted scorecards with numbers more often viewed on local weather reports ‘round these parts. The midsummer weather reports – and the high temperature of the day.
“It's one of the toughest setups I think I've seen at a major championship in a long time,” said Graeme McDowell, who shot 76, but remains only four strokes behind Woods, Singh and Carl Pettersson. “It was a tough setup on a calm day, and with a 30-mile-an-hour wind across this course, you've got a serious test of golf on your hands.”
The scoring average for the day was 78.11, the highest single-round scoring average in tournament history by nearly two full shots. There were more scores in the 90s than the 60s. Only 17 of the 152 competitors who finished beat their score from the previous round. The number of double bogeys or worse surpassed the number of players.
But I digress. Working our way further up the leaderboard, we find Matt Kuchar with an 82, Rickie Fowler with an 80 and Hunter Mahan with an 80. World-class talents united by second-class scores, each rendered a wind-blown, cut-missing trunk-slammer by day’s end.
World No. 1 Luke Donald had his bags packed, too, easily behind the cut line when he completed his morning round, only to be unpacking when he squeezed into the weekend rounds late in the day.
Everyone’s favorite opening-day story, John Daly, stumbled to a 77. Wearing colorful trousers adorned with multiple index fingers to raise prostate screening awareness, he represented a cause his fellow players could sympathize with.
As we keep winding our way up the leaderboard, though, a funny thing happens when we approach the top. Maybe the most compelling part of a tragedy isn’t the end. Or maybe the carnage wasn’t a tragedy at all.
Despite seemingly haunted scores that looked like golf’s version of Friday the 13th on the 10th of August, the top of the leaderboard more greatly resembled The Shining, thanks to plenty of stars in the mix entering the final 36 holes.
Woods and Singh – tied for the lead at 4 under with Carl Pettersson – will square off in the final pairing of the third round, a heavyweight title fight on one of the game’s grandest stages.
Of course, it wasn’t without a fight on Friday, either.
Woods birdied only one of the four par-5 holes and on No. 16 putted from near the front of the green to way off the back, needing to chip back on to save par. That may not sound like a great escape during any normal round, but this was hardly normal, his 1-under 71 just one of five scores below par on the day.
“I thought going out today, anything even par or better was going to be a good score,” Woods explained. “That was my goal. So I went out today and I accomplished that.”
Be very, very careful, fellow competitors. Woods has made a career of accomplishing his goals, which means his 15th major championship could arrive by sundown on Sunday.
“Hey, I'm right there with a chance. I like that,” he said. “I'm playing better to where I'm going to give myself chances in major championships. I'm right there. So we have got a long way to go and I don't know what the forecast is for tomorrow, if it's going to blow like this or not blow like this, but if it's anything like this over the weekend, with no rain, it's going to be tough.”
It’s going to be tough alongside his old nemesis, as well. Singh posted the lone sub-70 score on Friday, a 3-under 69 which considering the conditions could have been the equivalent of a 63 on any other day.
With three major titles of his own, the 49-year-old can offer some valuable perspective on not only trying to play in whipping winds that blew away most of the field, but trying to contend in them.
“We didn't expect wind like this,” he said after a round that featured five birdies against just two bogeys. “This is really strong winds. Yeah, I love contending in the majors, but you just contend with yourself and try to make a score if you can.”
Perhaps that’s the secret to avoiding a tragedy that befell so many others. Contend with yourself. Try to make a score. It sounds simple yet zen-like, an abridged version of what every player is attempting to accomplish.
In the end on Friday, the best part of the story wasn’t at the bottom after all. It was right at the top, compelling tales of overcoming tragedy amidst the carnage.