The greens at Muirfield were watered on Thursday night, so they were softer on Friday morning for the second round of the Open, but grew progressively firmer and faster throughout the day, making it difficult to adjust at times for the pros. The wind also switched directions, making the course play quite differently.
Woods, who shot two-under 69 in the first round after a shaky start, battled his way to an even-par 71. Once again, he put quite a bit of pressure on his putting, which, for the most part, was solid.
On the par-5 17th, Tiger left a makable birdie putt just short, but he rebounded with a 15-footer for birdie on the last hole to post a respectable level-par, 71, for a 36-hole total of two-under.
It hasn’t always been pretty, but Woods has done a good job grinding through the tough conditions and staying patient when required. At major championships and especially in links golf when it’s playing the way it is, sometimes you just have to take your medicine and be satisfied with a par or even a bogey — they key is minimizing your mistakes (wait, is this the Open Championship or the U.S. Open??) and keeping those dreaded double-bogeys off your card, which can happen with a blink of an eye.
“We actually made a couple of ball marks early,” said Woods, referring to the ever-varying conditions. “It obviously changed a lot as we were playing along. Our last four holes — our last five holes, it got awfully quick. But one thing that G and I were both talking about today is we never got an uphill putt to the hole. We were really struggling with that, they were so much slower than yesterday. But coming down the hills, they’re running out still.”
He missed two short ones around three feet on the front nine, though, and despite missing a 10-footer to save par on the 11th, he didn’t let the frustration thwart his efforts. It seemed like every time you looked up, Woods had a tester from around five-feet for par, but he made them to keep his momentum going, like on nos. 14 and 15.
“It was tough out there,” said Tiger. “Like the 10th hole, that putt’s tough, because, again, I was explaining earlier, it was uphill, and it’s slow. But it gets past the hole and it goes downhill and downwind. But it was a nice putt to make there. 13, as far as past that putt would have gone yesterday if it hadn’t gone in, is about as far short as I ended up today. And I happened to make it.”
As he’s well aware, it’s been over five years since he’s secured that elusive 15th major victory, with his troubles usually starting once the weekend starts.
“I’m in a good spot,” he said. “I’m tied for the clubhouse lead I think now with Henrik and Westy. “These guys have to go out this afternoon and obviously play a golf course that’s quick and it’s drying out and with a different wind. So it will be tough out there.”
Woods does indeed share the clubhouse lead with Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood, and the trio could very well be atop the leaderboard, with the conditions growing increasingly difficult and the carnage only getting bloodier, at the end of the second round.
“Well, I’ve put myself there, I just haven’t won,” said Tiger when asked whether if it’s hard to believe of how long it’s been since he last captured a major. “I’ve had chances on the back nine on many of those Sundays. Just one of those things where I haven’t gotten it. Just continue putting myself there.”
As we’ve seen in the last several years, he’s been right in the mix heading into the weekend, like last year at both Opens and at least two of the last three Masters, but he simply wasn’t able to close the deal.
Will that change at Muirfield? Well, obviously, you can’t rule it out, especially if you look at the list of major winners when the Open has been held at this particular venue.
Graeme McDowell played in a two-ball with Woods for the majority of the last two days after Louis Oosthuizen withdrew due to injury. McDowell, who successfully battled to make the cut, was blown away from Woods’ iron play, which, if you watched the telecast, you’ll notice was conservative.
“(Tiger) was very, very impressive the last two days,” said G-Mac. “He will not be far away this weekend the way he’s playing. Iron play, the flight control that he has in his irons, he just hits the shot that you’re supposed to hit at all times. He plays the golf course very conservatively, which I expected him to do because his iron play is — I’m not sure there’s a better iron player in the world. It’s incredible how well he controls his ball flight. And he’s putting exceptionally well. I lost count of how many 8, 10, 15-footers he’s made for par over the last two days.”
McDowell said it’s easy to get a bit distracted in his situation over the past two rounds.
“Really? It’s like, do I have to follow that?” said McDowell, half-jokingly. “No, like I say, he’s so impressive. The only downfall that I kind of find when I play with him and players of his caliber, is that you find yourself getting a little too full of admiration. You need to believe in your own game. I was happy with the way I hit it this morning. Like I say, big key for me tomorrow is to get out there and get focused on my own game is try and shoot 4- or 5-under par, and who knows, I might have a shot come Sunday afternoon.”
At the end of Tiger’s post-round presser, he was asked how many drivers he had hit.
“I’ve hit, I believe, about eight or ten,” Woods replied.
The scribe was taken aback, asking, “Where?”
Tiger busted out laughing and said, “On the range…I got you.”
That said, it appears Woods has been in quite a relaxed mood this week. Perhaps having his girlfriend Lindsey Vonn by his side has something to do with it? You know what they say, when things are going well in your personal life…they usually carry over to your work. Well, I guess that’s also true the other way around.
Who takes Tiger to win this week? Who doesn’t? I’d like to take this to a vote!
Now, of course, there were other people playing at Muirfield this morning. What else stood out?
*Henrik Stenson: The Swede played in the final pairing with Phil Mickelson last Sunday at the Scottish Open, but collapsed coming down the stretch. Obviously, he’s striking the ball well and that’s carried over to the Open Championship. It wasn’t pretty, but Stenson shot back-t0-back 70s, and it’s likely he might be the only player who shot under-par in both rounds.
Stenson’s round wasn’t exactly pretty or boring, so to speak, but that kind of goes with the territory when it comes to links golf, you can hit two horrible shots and miss them in the right place and walk off with a better score than the guy who struck two beautiful shots and just got a bit unlucky. (See? All my research is helping me convey the tournament to you.)
“I was hanging in there, made five birdies, which is good, and I was in deep trouble on the 6th hole and I managed to get away with a double,” said Stenson, who shares the clubhouse lead. “I was in the thick hay on the left, hit a poor tee ball, and was stuck behind the 8 ball. I was hacking it back and forth over the fairway two times, and had to do a good two-putt for 6. But bounced back with a solid birdie on 7. Birdied the 9th. And then was in trouble on the 10th, I made a nice six-footer for bogey on 10. And came back with a birdie on 11. And kept on battling my way in and finished strong the last three holes with a birdie and two par.”
Oh yeah, if you like carnage, go watch guys putt the 15th green this afternoon.
“Anybody wants to see three-putts or four-putts, head down to 15,” he said. “That’s going to be a nightmare in the afternoon, if it keeps getting drier. It’s playing so short that one downwind, it’s 450 yards. I hit 5-iron off the tee and was left with a gap wedge. And it landed just on a soft spot on the front of the green, I thought I had a good putt, it looked to be three or four feet, and before it started, it was 10 or 11 feet down to the right. That one is going to be brutal in the afternoon I imagine.”
Oooh! That could be intriguing…
*Lee Westwood: The Englishman is contending at a major again and trying to finally breakthrough at one. How many top-5s had Westwood had in the last five years or so at one of the four big ones? Too many. Westwood put on a bit of a clinic on Friday, getting it to five-under at one point, but made three bogeys in the last six holes to post a three-under 66 after he opened with a one-over 72. Not too shabby.
“I enjoyed it yesterday,” said Westwood, who teed off in the morning on Friday with slightly easier conditions than yesterday afternoon. “It was a test, a different kind of test yesterday. You come out in the morning and you expect that you have slightly bad scoring conditions, and they were, the greens were slightly softer. A pitch mark on 2 and a pitch mark on 3. They start to firm up pretty quickly. I was pleased to be 6-under through 12. I was playing some great stuff. And it was just getting harder as the holes progressed, tougher to score, tougher to get it close.”
Westwood, who has looked solid with the putter in his hand this week, planned to watch the tough grind for the guys who teed off in the afternoon wave.
“We had an advantage,” said Westwood, referring to teeing off in the morning. “I’ll kick back this afternoon on the couch and watch some struggles and the cricket.”
*Mark O’Meara and Tom Lehman: After the pair of 50-plus former Open champs, O’Meara and Lehman, shot rounds of 67 and 67 in the first round, respectively, on Thursday, they shot 78 and 77 on Friday morning at Muirfield.
“Really ugly golf,” said Lehman. “From the beginning to the end, just seems like I got progressively worse. Not happy with it. I was hanging in there, actually it felt like I was getting something going, and then I made a stupid bogey on 12.
“I had 6-iron and a wedge and I made a bogey. And then hit a pretty good second on 15 that almost went in the hole and snuck off the back bunker, and made double from there, so disaster.”
*Jordan Spieth: The 19-year-old American hasn’t slowed down since winning the John Deere Classic last Sunday. He had it going for a while on Friday morning and was one-under through 14, but he doubled no. 15 and played the last four holes at four-over to shoot three-over 74.
“Well, it’s difficult,” said Spieth, who said the greens were slower but the pins were slightly easier. “16 is a tough hole today straight into the wind. I just made a bad swing. I made a bad decision on 15 and 17, and then 16 was just a bad swing. There’s nothing I could do about it and it happened to plug in the bunker. I felt like I played 16 very well to make bogey.
“I was trying to stay patient. It was just like yesterday. Yesterday I was, for some reason, extremely patient with just taking my 30-footers and just trying to give myself tap-ins and not worrying about making birdies. Today I finally got to a point where I finally had enough and wanted to really hit it closer. And that’s what happens when you try.”
However, he’s still in the mix at one-over through 36 holes, which is currently T18. He’ll likely move up a bit before the end of the day.
That’s it for now, we’ll check back in at the end of the day.
(Photo: Paul Cunningham/USA Today Sports)