|ESPN.com: Sobel||[Print without images]|
NORTON, Mass. -- Stop me if you've heard this one before: Tiger Woods looked very much like the Tiger Woods of old on Saturday.
|For the first time since the 2009 PGA Championship, Tiger Woods played an entire PGA Tour round without a single blemish on his scorecard.|
We've been down this road before. The back nine of Round 3 at the U.S. Open. The entire opening round at last week's Barclays. In each instance, pundits were quick to declare Woods "back" to his vintage self, ready to compete and contend and win tournaments once again. In each instance, that notion never materialized.
If there's any major proclamation to make following his second-round 6-under 65 at the Deutsche Bank Championship, it's that we should take the performance at face value. Which is to say this: Though Woods played mistake-free golf for the first time this season and stands T-29 after 36 holes, it shouldn't serve as a determining predictor for any upcoming results.
The one thing we've come to learn about Woods this year -- on the course, at least -- is that he's been consistently inconsistent. Though it's difficult to view his latest round without a healthy dose of optimism, momentum has eluded the world's No. 1-ranked player in recent months. There is no reason to believe this one will lead to a Monday victory any more than it may lead to subsequent disappointment, considering he's put together consecutive under-par rounds just once in his previous seven appearances.
That's not to take away from what he accomplished on Saturday.
One day after posting a pedestrian 1-over 72 -- he was one of just 13 players to shoot over par -- Woods apparently took his Clark Kent persona into the phone booth for an overhaul. Although the "S" on the chest of Woods' white shirt stood for Stanford University in honor of college football's opening weekend, it was a super turnaround in the span of just more than 12 hours.
Whereas he opened his first round with four bogeys on the first six holes, this time he carded four birdies on the first seven to get himself on the right side of the cutline.
"The first six holes were nice," he said after tying his season-low 18-hole score. "I didn't miss a shot. I striped it on every shot. To start off that way, that was nice."
The final stretch of holes could have been just as nice, but Woods missed a handful of putts that kept his 65 from being, well, even lower.
Many times this year we've seen such blunders turn a good round for Tiger into a poor one, but the fact any missed putts were for birdie should serve as a testament to his ball-striking on Saturday. Often employing driver off the tee, he hit 11 of 14 fairways (five more than in the opening round) and 14 greens in regulation (three more than the previous day).
The result was Woods' initial bogey-free round in 39 attempts this season and his first in more than a year, dating back to the first round of the 2009 PGA Championship.
It was enough that even the player who is always his own worst critic was unduly satisfied with the performance.
"It was a clean card today," he said. "Could have been a little bit lower. I missed a few out there, but overall with the wind blowing like this, it's a little bit swirly and a little bit gusty, I feel very pleased with the number I was able to post."
Woods wasn't the only one who was impressed with his play. John Senden and Michael Sim each bested their playing partner by four strokes over the first two rounds, but said they caught glimpses of the "old" Tiger, as well.
"He played great golf today," said Sim, who has posted rounds of 68-66 so far. "He was 330 in the middle all day; he drove it fantastic. ... I didn't see him all day, he was way in front of me."
"He certainly brought out his A-game today, I thought," agreed Senden, who's started 66-68. "It's always good to see the best in the world play golf. He drove the ball real well today and he really looked sharp."
The next step for Woods is following this with another sharp performance in Round 3. Building on these successful rounds has been an obstacle for him throughout this season, as he's rarely been able to back one up with another directly afterward.
It's something he is well aware of, too.
Asked after his round what he needs to do for the final two days, he responded: "Continue building what I'm building on. Each and every day I'm trying to build on what I'm working on, and it takes time. I'm pleased that yesterday I was able to turn it around yesterday after a poor start, figure out what changes I need to make in my swing, and I did that, and that continued today."
If he can continue that on Sunday, he might find himself in contention going into the final round. As we've seen so far this year, though, another strong performance remains a big if for Woods.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.