PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The perception of Tiger Woods on the golf course has changed so much in a week, evident by the first question he faced Friday after scratching out a 1-under 71 at The Players Championship.
“It looks like you did make the cut, so you’re playing on the weekend. Feel good?”
Woods once went seven years without missing the cut. Last week at Quail Hollow was only the sixth missed cut of his career.
Yet there were so many questions whether his personal turmoil was a distraction in his golf game that even Woods playing on the weekend at the TPC Sawgrass was not such a sure thing until he settled into fairways and greens and pars over the final hour.
He wound up at 3-under 141, and was safe.
He wasn’t celebrating, not when he was nine shots behind Lee Westwood, the 36-hole leader among early starters.
“I wasn’t quite as sharp today I was yesterday,” Woods said.
It was an ordinary score given the easiest conditions on the Stadium Course in 16 years. What made it extraordinary were some of the shots that he did, memorable for other reasons.
Woods hit a 3-wood on the seventh hole Thursday that he popped up so badly it barely reached the fairway and went only 190 yards. On Friday, such a breathtaking moment came on the 14th hole with a 3-wood in hand.
He started it out to the right – well right – and it kept right on going. The ball left the tee at a 45-degree angle, beyond the fairway, beyond the gallery, beyond the rough, over some trees. It finally landed in the middle of a small pond on the 12th fairway.
“I couldn’t stop,” he said under his breath, dropping a few choice words while repeating the phrase.
He felt something out of position in his swing somewhere before impact. Trouble was, it was too late to do anything about it. Had he felt it sooner, Woods said he would have stopped in mid-swing and started over. Once he got past a certain point, the only question was whether it would be way right or way left. Either way, it was headed for the water.
“I was in a bad spot,” Woods said. “It was not the spot I wanted to be in to hit the shot I wanted to hit, and I was trying to stop. By the time I realized I was in that spot, I physically couldn’t do it.”
Woods took a penalty drop among murmurs in the gallery, which could not believe what it saw. He hit short of the green, hit wedge to about 10 feet and had to make a 4-foot putt coming back for double bogey.
He did enough right to make up for the few bad shots – consecutive birdies on the 12th and 13th, and he followed the double bogey with birdies on the 15th and 16th.
But this was not the day to stay around even par, not with Westwood shooting a 65, along with Lucas Glover and two others. Twenty-one players among the early starters shot in the 60s, and more low scores were sure to follow in the afternoon.
At nine shots back, Woods didn’t see it any differently than if he had been playing the last six months, and playing well.
“It’s the same,” he said. “Got to keep plodding along, and on this golf course, anything can happen. You know that. There are guys that can make 3s and guys that can makes 6s out here on the same hole.”