WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – As Tiger Woods arrived to the first tee to begin his second round at The Greenbrier Classic, another player sauntered up to the brick patio that sits adjacent to the opening tee box.
His round had yet to begin, and he simply wanted to watch the best player of a generation fire off a competitive shot. After marveling at the sizeable gallery that lined the opening hole from tee to green, he fixed his eyes back on Woods.
“Well,” he wondered aloud, “I wonder where this one is headed.”
Indeed, there were doubts about how Woods would fare, even among his professional brethren and even after an opening-round 66 on the Old White TPC. The fact that Woods parked that opening tee shot into a stand of trees well right of the fairway certainly didn’t allay any of those concerns.
After weeks of struggle, Woods has basically been relegated to wait-and-see mode.
He’s playing well during a practice round? Let’s see if he can take it from the range to the course. Oh, he made it around a PGA Tour track without spraying it all over the park? Let’s see if he can do it again. He made it past the cut, did he? Let’s see if he can play his way into contention. And so on.
For much of his second round, Woods appeared ready to silence many of those doubts. After so many rounds that produced scorecards painted with circles and squares, Woods was basically on autopilot on the front, hitting all nine greens in regulation. He ran that streak to 10 in a row before his approach to No. 11 missed the green by a foot.
Ah, what a difference a foot makes.
That slight error led to a muffed chip, a shot that harkened back to painful memories from Isleworth and TPC Scottsdale. And from there, as though a switch had mysteriously been flipped, Woods reverted back to the form with which he has been all too familiar this season.
Tee shots that were barely off line through his first 28 holes were now miles from their target, as Woods nearly hit it out of bounds on No. 13 and then found the water for the second straight day on No. 17. Approaches lacked the correct distance, and Woods couldn’t buy a putt with Jim Justice’s money before finally rolling in a 6-foot birdie try on the home hole – his longest make of the day.
Any insight into what changed over the final eight holes left the property quickly in a courtesy car, as Woods declined all media interview requests.
While Woods’ performance at the halfway point may have exceeded some expectations, a second-round 69 has to feel like an opportunity lost.
Sure, Woods carded back-to-back rounds in the 60s for just the second time in the last 16 months, but when he began his round late in the afternoon, the lead had not budged from the overnight mark of 8 under. Woods’ early-late draw clearly received the more favorable weather conditions, with heavy rains delaying play earlier in the day, and a repeat of Thursday’s seven-birdie performance could have put him at or near the lead.
Instead, he finds himself four shots off the pace with 25 names above his in the standings. While more than half of those players have never won before on the PGA Tour, that doesn’t detract from the fact that Woods is further adrift than he had hoped to be when the day began.
His frustration was evident throughout the day, notably after rinsing his drive on the penultimate hole and slamming his club both into the turf and against his bag, and his decision to decline post-round comments hints at a player who feels he let a low score slip away.
While Woods raced to the clubhouse in his opening round, carding a trio of birdies to build some true momentum, Friday’s close felt more like a car that suddenly ran out of gas, left desperately sputtering toward the finish line.
Woods has a chance for redemption this weekend, and he has earned a few more treasured reps before heading to St. Andrews for the Open Championship. But even after a pair of sub-par scores to start the week, he hasn’t earned any extra margin for error.
For Tiger Woods, it’s still wait and see.