TULSA, Okla. – After fighting to make the cut, but now 12 shots back, Tiger Woods succinctly described what he needed to do Saturday at Southern Hills.
“Hopefully tomorrow I can do something like what Bubba did today,” Woods said.
Ah, yes, Watson, the mercurial left-hander who popped up again Friday and tied the 18-hole scoring record at the PGA Championship with a 7-under 63. At 5-under 135, he is four shots off the lead.
Friday’s 63 wasn’t just Watson’s lowest career round in a major – it was his lowest by four.
“I could shoot 80-80 [on the weekend] and care less what I did on Friday,” he said. “It’s very nice, don’t get me wrong. It’s an honor to be able to shoot 63 on any course. I’ll take it. But I’ve got to look forward to tomorrow and see what I’m at, and hopefully I’ll hit just as quality shots as I did today.”
Now 43, Watson is a shell of the player he was even four years ago, when he won three times and finished 10th in the FedExCup standings. He’s been open about his severe battles with anxiety, but less publicized was that he also required platelet-rich plasma injections in both his wrist and knees. One of the game’s longest drivers in his prime, he’s actually below average on Tour this season, averaging just 294 yards, which would place him 133rd on Tour if he’d played enough rounds to qualify. He’s lost 10 yards compared to last season. He’s roughly 20 yards shorter than he was just five years ago.
Spotting this trend a few weeks ago, Watson switched shafts in his driver, from a 90-gram model (that he has been using since 2002) to 60 grams. The difference has been stark: He’s averaging 318.1 yards on all drives this week, which ranks him 18th in the field. He said he’s picked up 5 mph clubhead and ball speed.
“It’s helped me stretch out a little bit more, get looser with my shoulders so I can hit shots again,” he said.
Watson missed just a single fairway in the second round, on the 13th hole, and he seemingly did so intentionally, so he wouldn’t be worried coming home about his perfect streak. It’s hard to imagine Woods employing a similar tactic on Saturday, but it’s that kind of quirky headspace that has defined Watson’s unorthodox career. He has just two career top-10s in majors outside of the Masters (where he’s a two-time winner), and none since 2010.
“Today was a great day,” he said, and now he needs another one.
Just like Tiger.