PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Here are some observations after watching Tiger Woods shoot 1-over-par 71 Friday at the Honda Classic to move four shots off the lead going into the weekend ...
• Wow, even with that heart-in-your-throat finish through the Bear Trap, Tiger delivered more fun to golf fans than he has in a long, long time. It was a rollicking good time with galleries scampering to see him, as if it was 2008 or something.
• The winds were gusting, the greens were bumpy, and yet Tiger grinded, scrambled and fought his way into contention. It says a lot about how much further ahead of schedule he may be than most anyone could have imagined at this point, because this is a ball striker’s course. If a guy’s a little bit off on this course, in these tough conditions, misses are magnified. They are swallowed by water. It’s easy to shoot big numbers here, but Woods was in pretty good control around this tough test, where par was a good score.
• Tiger was excited after the round, he couldn’t hide that, but he tried to temper it. He talked about giving himself a chance to win, but he also cautioned he “still has a long way to go.” He is, after all, just halfway through his third PGA Tour start in his return from his fourth back surgery.
• Tiger continued to look more comfortable off the tee, swinging more freely. He uncorked a 361-yard bomb into the 10th fairway, cutting the corner there. Though the stats will say he hit 8 of 14 fairways, there were no really big misses, nothing to alarm him or shake his confidence. He barely missed on a few of those drives that didn’t count as fairways hit. His worst miss came with a 2-iron at the second hole, when he pulled his tee shot into a bush and took a penalty for an unplayable lie.
• Tiger hit 11 of 18 greens in regulation, his iron play getting sharper but still not dialed in the way he wants. He hit what looked like a pretty good iron shot off the 15th tee, but it hit a wall of wind and never made its way back to the target, nosediving in the water.
. He made a costly double bogey there. Still, the winds and “scratchy” greens made distance control tough to gauge where he’s really at.
• Tiger’s short game continues to be sharp, his putter solid, though he missed a birdie chance from 8 feet at the 12th hole that could have moved him to within one shot of the lead and turned this place upside down. He also had a costly three-putt at the 16th. Overall, he took 28 putts.
• Tiger was good and bad through the Bear Trap, going double bogey-bogey at 15 and 16 before a brilliant birdie at the tough 17th, where he carved a shot in there to 12 feet to set up his birdie.
• Tiger is in the weekend hunt ... Tiger is in the weekend hunt ... Tiger is in the weekend hunt. That deserved repeating.