HOYLAKE, England – The fans seated in the horseshoe grandstand behind the 18th hole gave Tiger Woods a hearty applause as he approached the final green Friday – just in case they were saying goodbye.
Turns out they’ll get two more days of the former world No. 1.
Hank Haney made news recently by questioning his former student’s desire, but on that final hole, on that final green, there was little doubt where Woods’ mind was. He stalked the 8-foot putt, and then picked a heck of a time to record his only birdie of the day.
The good news: He had a weekend tee time.
The bad: He spotted the hottest player in golf a two-touchdown lead.
Woods’ second-round, 5-over 77 matched his second-worst score in a major as a pro, and his 2-over 146 left him 14 shots behind Rory McIlroy.
Even in the better end of the draw, Woods was still blown away Friday at Royal Liverpool.
“Well, it gives me a chance,” he said of his cut-making birdie, but Woods should know better than most that this wind-blasted round sealed his fate for the weekend.
Seventy-one players separate Woods and the lead. After a promising 69 on Day 1, it’s clear that his major drought will continue, soon to be 19 and counting.
Woods’ start was ominous, from his shirt (he constantly tugged at his sleeves) to his back (he twisted and rotated his torso) to his opening tee ball (he snapped it onto the adjacent hole).
“Just bad starts, period,” said Woods of his double bogey-bogey start.
After his bad start, Woods made 14 consecutive pars. Meanwhile, the rest of the afternoon-wavers pushed deeper and deeper into red figures, none more audaciously than McIlroy, who continued to bash driver en route to another 66.
Two groups ahead, Woods could only listen to the roars.
He missed an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 4. He raced a putt 35 feet past on No. 5. Soon, the frustration began to boil over.
A 3-wood drive gave him a chance from the middle of the fairway on the par-5 10th. On an upslope, with a long iron, from 234 yards, into a 15-mph crosswind, Woods spun out of his iron shot, his ball riding the wind and crashing into the long, gnarly rough right of the green.
The tall stuff swallowed his ball, and his shoes, and all he could do was chop out to 50 feet and feel fortunate to walk away with a two-putt par.
On 16, he cut a driver into the wind and found more thick rough down the right side. He slashed out with a wedge, but even his layup was off-line. He flipped over the club and took two angry swipes at the fescue. When he found where his second shot had settled, he barked an expletive into his towel and tossed it at caddie Joe LaCava.
Then came 17, and Woods’ biggest miscue in a round full of them. Playing 458 yards, but straight downwind, he opted for driver to carry the bunkers down the left. Instead, he blocked it right, and he was more than halfway down the fairway when he finally spotted a marshal signaling that his ball had come to rest out of bounds. Woods raised his hands in disbelief.
“You could have told me earlier,” he grumbled, and with his ball only 2 feet O.B., he was forced to head back to the tee for a reload. Taking driver again, he hit a quick hook that dove into the left rough on the 16th. After muscling his fourth shot to the back out of the green, he flubbed his pitch and took little time to line up his 35-footer.
“His head is detached from the shoulder blades!” someone howled on BBC Radio. “He’s being silly here!”
Two putts later he was down for a 7, the first time since the 2000 Masters that he carded both a double and triple bogey in a major round.
On the home hole, and needing a birdie to make the cut, Woods hit 3-wood to the left side of the fairway, belted an iron short and right of the green, and nipped his pitch shot off a tight lie to 8 feet. Faced with a make-or-break putt, Woods rammed it home for a closing birdie, his only one of the day.
“Not very good,” he said of his day. “I had some opportunities to make a few birdies along the way to get back to even par for the day, and I just never did. I just never made anything.”
When Woods won here in ’06, it was heralded as a ball-striking masterpiece. That week he hit driver only once, and he avoided all of the fairway bunkers, and he won by two shots for his third (and last) claret jug. Woods hit driver twice here in the opening round, but the forecast for a steady, 25-mph wind forced his hand. At least he planned accordingly, working on the range for 40 minutes on Thursday afternoon, the first time he had hit balls post-round since the start of the year.
The extra work didn’t help much, though. Woods hit driver six times (and on five holes) in the second round. Each time he missed the fairway. He was far more effective hitting the fairway with 3-wood, finding the burned-out turf on all three occasions, but by that point he had drifted out of touch with the lead.
“I didn’t hit the driver very good today,” he said. “I figured today would be a chance to go out there and be aggressive and take some of the bunkers out of play, but I just didn’t drive it well.”
Torrential rains and fierce winds await players on Saturday, but at least Woods is still playing.
The spectators on 18 figured they were saying goodbye.