Tiger taking aim at PGA after 71
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- He visited Kiawah Island last week, and again to start preparations for the PGA Championship on Monday, somewhat disappointed that the wind off the Atlantic Ocean was nothing more than a breath of hot air.
Tiger Woods wanted it to blow, and he didn't mind if the conditions got difficult because, well, it suits him. The top players always want the hardest conditions. It separates the best from the rest. Strong ball-striking is rewarded. It is less a putting contest and more about hitting the best shots.
But Friday at the Ocean Course, it howled. White caps on the Atlantic Ocean caused white knuckles. Oppressive temperatures were negated by a constant breeze that blew away the bugs and pretenders. Most golfers wouldn't bother on such a day.
And this, perhaps, was quite a bit more than even Woods desired.
"This is tough,'' he said Friday evening after a 5½-hour round produced a 1-under-par 71. "This is, at times, a little bit brutal out there because you're playing so much drift. Even if you hook or slice the ball, it doesn't matter.
"I thought going out today, anything even par or better was going to be a good score. That was my goal. So I went out today and accomplished that. It was a tough, tough day.''
No doubt. The scoring average was 78.11, the highest at any tournament since the final round of the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.
Woods' second straight under-par round put him in a three-way, 36-hole tie for the lead along with Singh and Sweden's Carl Pettersson, the winner earlier this year at Hilton Head. Woods will play in the final twosome Saturday with his old nemesis Singh, the only player during the decade of the 2000s to occupy the No. 1 ranking other than Woods.
Singh, 49, shot a 3-under-par 69 in the morning wave and turned out to be the only player to shoot in the 60s. The fourth player to break par was Ian Poulter (71). Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey shot 70 after an opening-round 78 but was later disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.
"There's not one shot out there that's easy,'' said defending PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who played with Woods and shot 77. "I don't think anybody was very prepared, just because we never played. There were a few holes that were just brutal.''
Singh visited last week because he wasn't eligible for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and said he encountered difficult conditions on Wednesday and Thursday. Woods was here the Tuesday prior to the Bridgestone, and again during his practice he lamented the lack of wind.
Woods got it Friday, and hit enough solid shots while getting hot with the putter to put himself in some familiar territory. He was also tied for the lead through 36 holes of the U.S. Open in June before tying for 31st. He is 8-for-10 in converting 36-hole leads in majors into victories but has failed to do so in his past two attempts.
His coach, Sean Foley, was pleased to see Woods' game stand up to the unrelenting wind, especially on a stretch of holes early on the back nine that played havoc.
"He hit the ball beautifully,'' Foley said. "Especially from 10 through 13, to play those holes 1-under par, not too many guys did that.''
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This was the fifth time in eight rounds played over the course of the first two days of majors this year that Woods shot under par. Of course, he has failed to do so in any of six weekend rounds, hence his inability to close out a major title. Woods is still holding at 14 majors since his 2008 U.S. Open victory.
"I'm right there with a chance, and I like that,'' said Woods, who tied for third three weeks ago at the Open Championship. "So, I'm playing better to where I'm going to give myself chances in major championships. I'm right there. So, we have got a long way to go and I don't know the forecast, but if it's going to blow like this or if it's anything like this over the weekend, with ... rain, it's going to be tough. It's going to be tough to get the ball close to these holes.''
Woods hit just nine greens in regulation but was again making putts, a big departure from previous majors.
He had seven one-putt greens on the front side and 11 for the round. He needed just 26 for the day -- after taking only 22 on Thursday -- but did have a disappointing 3-putt at the last for a bogey 5 that dropped him into a tie for the lead.
Still, Woods saved pars at the first and third holes, rolled in a 10-footer for birdie at the second, then made another birdie at the fourth. His putting sustained him through the tough conditions.
"I putted great on the weekend at Akron,'' he said. "I holed a bunch of putts. I believe I made six putts over 20 feet on the weekend. I did a lot of good solid work on Thursday and Friday after I putted so poorly, and I felt great on the weekend. I was rolling the ball the way that I know I can roll the golf ball. And I just basically carried it over to here this week.''
Now can Woods carry it into the weekend?
With opportunities at the Olympic Club and Royal Lytham & St. Annes, he was unable to put together the kind of Saturday round to put himself in strong contention. At both places, he began the final round fighting to claw back, a position from which he's never won a major.
Of course, Woods would love to emerge Saturday with the outright lead, or at least tied as he is now. He has won all 14 of his majors when in such position, failing just once -- at the 2009 PGA Championship, when he led by 2 but shot a final-round 75 to fall to Y.E. Yang.
At that PGA, Woods played in the final group on Saturday with Singh and saw a 4-shot advantage dwindle to just 2 strokes over Yang. Looking back, Woods likely played too conservatively in that third round. It had worked for him for so long, but didn't at Hazeltine.
It is something to remember Saturday, Woods again playing along Singh, who could become the oldest major champion in history.
There's not likely to be much banter between the two, but then again it's kind of tough to hear at Kiawah. That howling wind has a way of drowning out any conversation.
It was what Woods asked for, and he got it in a big way.
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2012 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
In recent months, Rory McIlroy admitted he heard the questions about his game going south. After Sunday's record-setting win at the PGA, those critics have been silenced. Gene Wojciechowski
2012 champion: Rory McIlroy
Course: The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island
Where: Kiawah Island, S.C.
Yardage, par: 7,676 yards, par-72