PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The man who made famous the skill of turning a 77 into a 72 in a single round at the U.S. Open over the course of his career did the opposite on Friday. Instead, Woods turned 67 into 72 in Round 2 at Pebble Beach, and he now has a huge uphill climb on the weekend as a result.
Woods started on the second nine on the course on Friday for his second 18 holes and played them in 35 strokes with no bogeys. He carved up Pebble’s soft fairways and pounded its tiny greens. When Woods made the turn, it looked as if he would start blitzing the easier side of this track. Something — anything, really — had to start falling, right?
Wrong. Woods lost over two strokes to the field on the day with his Scotty Cameron. He shot a 2-over 37 on the front (his back nine). The club that picked him up and carried him to a 1-under 70 on Thursday only served to trip him up en route to what should have been something in the 60s on Friday.
The big narrative coming into the week for how to play Pebble Beach is by hitting all of its greens. The big narrative coming into the week for how to play any U.S. Open is by hitting all of its fairways. Woods literally did that on Friday — he hit 11-of-14 fairways and 13-of-18 greens — but it took him 32 putts (32 putts!) to finish off 18 holes.
When he did miss greens — like on the par-4 8th and 9th holes, his final two of the day — his putter no longer served as his salvation. The bogey-bogey close sullied what was otherwise a steady, if unimpressive day and pushed his score from 1 under to 1 over in the span of 20 minutes.
The problem for Tiger now is that he’s seven back of playing partner Justin Rose and will have a yacht full of golfers ahead of him when the third round starts on Saturday. He’s hitting it well enough that he could legitimately contend for a second major in 2019, but now it will take a miracle third round in the mid-60s with the USGA likely ratcheting up the difficulty level for it to happen.
Woods’ round was even more infuriating when you juxtapose it to his other playing partner. Jordan Spieth shot a 2-under 69 and looked at times like he’d been waved in off one of the boats in Stillwater Cove as a late alternate replacement. He made five bogeys — three more than Woods — and if you only watched their performances from tee to green, you would have lost an outrageous amount of money on the fact that Spieth clipped Woods by three full strokes.
In cool, wet (and still pretty slow!) conditions on Friday, Tiger scored as poorly as he has all season and maybe in his career. This is the great demand of golf and the great quirk of major championships. The board doesn’t care how many times you found the clubface, it only cares how adept you were at getting the ball in the cup. Tiger was maybe the worst in the field at doing that for the level he played at on Friday, and now a shot a 16th major is currently on life support when it should be alive and well going into the weekend.