CARMEL, Ind. – Big drives and birdies, they’re sexy in golf.
They’re the showstoppers, the highlight-reel hogs.
Tiger Woods has won his 74 PGA Tour events with a lot of big drives and birdies, but he might not have won any of them without a magical short game.
At his best, Woods could get up and down from just about anywhere on the planet. At his best, he looked like he could even get up and down from hell, or at least hellish lies.
In Friday’s second round of the BMW Championship, Woods conjured some of that old magic, some sleight of hand that would have made The Great Blackstone envious.
With a scrappy 5-under-par 67, Woods showed Rory McIlroy how to make pars when your ball’s disappeared, or at least can’t be seen in rough as leafy as cabbage.
Woods gave the “kid” a clinic on scrambling.
McIlroy and Woods put a jolt into this FedEx Cup playoff weekend, keeping their names near the top of the leaderboard in the second round at Crooked Stick, but they battled there together in different ways
At 12-under 132, they’re tied for second with Ryan Moore, a shot behind Vijay Singh.
McIlroy shot 68 Friday. He did it with some spectacular shots, with some terrific highlight-reel action. He made six birdies and an eagle, but he also made four bogeys.
Woods less spectacularly posted the better score with fewer birdies and no eagles. Woods did it with a bogey-free round.
Given some of Woods’ misses Friday, that was impressive.
“I fought hard,” Woods said. “I didn’t have much today.”
McIlroy made the more spectacular full shots, but Woods made fewer mistakes, or at least he cleaned up his mistakes better.
“I’ve been able to grind,” Woods said. “Just kind of fighting it around here.”
Woods missed five greens Friday but never failed to get up and down. He saved par every time.
McIlroy failed to get up and down three times after missing greens. The two times he did save par after missing greens, he rescued himself from sloppy chips with his putter. He holed 15-foot and 17-foot putts to make those saves.
“I didn’t play as well as I did yesterday but was able to get it around,” McIlroy said. “It seemed like every time I missed the green, I missed it in the wrong spot and left myself difficult chips. But I took advantage of the opportunities that I did give myself.
“I just think I’m putting so well that any time I do get a look on the green for birdie, I’m sort of making those.”
McIlroy and Woods are putting a giant buzz in these playoffs.
Last week, McIlroy won the Deutsche Bank Championship, holding off Woods in hot pursuit of him in the final round.
They opened this week in the same Thursday-Friday pairings by virtue of both being among the top three in FedEx Cup points. McIlroy’s first, Woods is third. They would have been paired for a third consecutive time Saturday if the pairings had been made in twosomes, as originally planned. Instead, with bad weather expected Saturday, tee times were moved up with threesomes going off the first and 10th tees beginning at 11 a.m. ET.
McIlroy will go off in the final threesome with Singh and Ryan Moore at 1:01 p.m.
Woods will go off in the second-to-last grouping with Lee Westwood and Bo Van Pelt at 12:50 p.m.
Asked how his confidence is with a chance to win his third elite event in a month, McIlroy beamed.
“I’ve always felt that confidence was a big part of my game,” he said. “When I’m high on confidence, I play well. When I don’t have much, I don’t play so well. So having a stretch like this, where I’m high on confidence really helps. This is probably the most confident I’ve been in a long time.”
McIlroy got off to a hot start Friday, making birdies at the first and second holes. He stuffed a wedge to 2 feet at the second. At the sixth tee, he hit a 7-iron from 200 yards to 3 feet and made birdie. At the ninth, he drilled a 6-iron from 216 yards to 5 feet and made eagle.
McIlroy made bogeys failing to get up and down after missing greens at the seventh, 14th and 16th holes. He made bogey at the fourth with a three putt.
“I’ve put myself in great position going into the weekend,” McIlroy said. “I just need to try to find a little more consistency. It wasn’t bad out there, just a couple missed tee shots and a couple missed iron shots.”
Woods’ driver wasn’t as sharp as it has been in his last three starts, but he is clearly driving the ball with confidence. The return of his short game bodes well for this stretch run of big events through September. His putting looked good again Friday, too.
“I made my share of nice par putts,” Woods said. “That’s what keeps rounds going, and it can turn the tide and get momentum going in the right direction, even though you’re struggling.”
Woods and McIlroy are both riding some strong momentum into the weekend.