Woods' WGC window closes, time to look forward

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AKRON, Ohio – It’s all about honing his game and his confidence for Kiawah Island now.

Tiger Woods isn’t going to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Sunday, but he could win momentum that will help him claim the PGA Championship next week.

With a 2-under-par 68 Saturday, Woods moved in a good direction, piecing together his best round this week at Firestone Country Club.

With some long-range help from his putter, Woods broke par at Firestone for just the second time in his last 11 rounds here, a venue where he has won seven times.

At day’s end, though, this round had to encourage Woods more for its possibilities. It felt like he could have gone low Saturday.

All three of Woods’ birdies were near monsters. He rolled in a 36-footer at the fourth hole, a 28-footer at the 11th and another 28-footer at the 16th.

Still, after hitting 15 greens in regulation, the first eight greens he looked at, Woods gave himself some opportunities from intermediate range that he couldn’t convert. He squandered some chances you could see he really wanted to convert.

Woods missed birdie putts from 11 feet at the second, 10 feet at the fifth and 13 feet at the 10th.  Overall, he missed six birdie chances inside 20 feet and also missed a 6-foot putt for par at the 13th.

But the good news is that the putter was better, if not yet dialed in for a major championship.

“I’m not that far off,” Woods said.

Woods hit just two of eight fairways with his driver, but that’s deceiving. There was just one giant miss with it, at the ninth, a pulled shot into the trees that blocked his chance to hit that green in regulation.  

There was that missed 6-foot putt for par, and a sloppy three-quarter wedge from less than 100 yards that came up short of the eighth green, but those were the day’s only real miscues.

Woods took 31 putts but said he felt better about his putter.

“I just did some work yesterday and found some alignment, some posture things and got my feel back,” Woods said. “My blade was releasing properly again, and it felt really comfortable.”

As improved as Woods play was, he kept watching his playing partner one up him.

South Africa’s Branden Grace made five birdies on the front nine and turned in 30. He ended up posting a 66.

“I hit the ball well and made some putts, so I thought I was playing pretty well through 11 holes, but I was getting killed by my playing partner,” Woods said. “I thought I was playing well, but he was playing better. So it was a good day.  We both had good rounds.”

Woods and Grace are the only three-time winners this year on the major men’s tours. They were paired together all three rounds this week. Grace called the pairing a “dream come true” for him.

“I learned a hell of a lot playing with Tiger,” Grace said.

Sunday we will learn a little bit more about Woods’ readiness for Kiawah.