Commentary

Tiger Woods 'not bummed' after 61

Updated: August 2, 2013, 9:01 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

AKRON, Ohio -- Twelve-ounce curls in the bar used to be the biggest part of a golfer's workout routine, and although that lifestyle might still appeal to some, it is nowhere near as prevalent as it was in the days of persimmon woods and balata balls.

Today, fitness is in, carousing (mostly) is out. So, too, are the tools of the trade far different, with rocket golf balls powered by titanium drivers and all manner of high-tech equipment. Swing gurus, psychologists, trainers are all part of the golfer's entourage.

And yet, while the best of the game can hit the ball astronomical distances and render some iconic venues mere pitch-and-putt tracks, there certainly has been no assault on scoring records, certainly not when it comes to the number that was on everybody's mind Friday at Firestone Country Club.

Tiger Woods took a long, hard look at 59 but couldn't quite get to the score that has been shot just five times in the history of the PGA Tour.

To say that he "settled" for a career-best-tying 61 almost diminishes the accomplishment, because the 9-under score at Firestone was 5 strokes better than anyone else and a full 10 shots better than the day's scoring average. It was the kind of round that had you on the edge of your seat, the spectators watching the second round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational buzzing with anticipation.

Woods got to 9 under par for his round on the par-70 Firestone course through 13 holes, meaning he needed two birdies over the final five holes to shoot the elusive score of 59, last accomplished by Stuart Appleby in 2010.

But no more birdies would be forthcoming, and Woods actually had to scramble for a remarkable par at the last hole to shoot 61 and match the best score of his career.

He certainly wasn't complaining, nor should he after an impressive display of ballstriking and putting put him 7 strokes ahead of the field through 36 holes.

And yet, it did bring to the forefront again just how difficult it is to shoot 59, golf's magic number. Why not more?

"There's no doubt we're hitting it farther," Woods said. "The clubs are more forgiving, and our equipment is just that much better. But also, every golf course we go to is longer and they're narrowing it up. Before it was the 260-yard mark, now it's near the 300-yard mark [where fairways narrow]."

Woods cited lower cut scores, lower than when he turned pro in 1997. "But shooting 11, 12 or 13 deep [under par], that's a lot," he said.

This is the fourth time Woods has gotten within 2 strokes of 59, as he shot 61 in 1999 at the Byron Nelson Championship, in 2000 here at Firestone and in 2005 at the Buick Open. He shot 62 last year at the Honda Classic.

Jack Nicklaus never shot lower than 62. Same for Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson. Johnny Miller was known for going low, but never shot lower than 61.

Al Geiberger was the first to shoot 59 in a PGA Tour event, doing so at the 1977 Memphis Classic. Chip Beck did it in 1991 at the Las Vegas Invitational, with David Duval eagling the final hole in 1999 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic to accomplish the feat. Then it was 11 more years before Paul Goydos shot 59 at the John Deere Classic (Steve Stricker shot 60 the same day). Less than a month later, Appleby fired 59 at the Greenbrier.

And that's it.

Five players have shot 59 on the developmental Web.com Tour, including two in recent weeks. The number 60 is pretty rare, too. When Phil Mickelson shot it earlier this year at the TPC Scottsdale (lipping out for 59) it was just the 27th time in PGA Tour history. Mickelson and Zach Johnson have each done it twice.

The only player to shoot 59 on the LPGA Tour was Annika Sorenstam in 2001. The European Tour has seen 16 scores of 60, but no 59s.

"Golf is hard," Goydos said when he shot 59. "It's hard for everybody and eventually it gets to everybody as well. It's just a really, really, low, low number. I think my best on tour before this was a 62.

"I think there is a little bit of a barrier. I would imagine there are a boatload of 60s. There's a slight psychological barrier."

Woods suggested that was not the case with him. He cited a 59 he shot at his then-home course Isleworth in 1997 a short time before he won his first Masters. He had a money game going with his friend Mark O'Meara that included automatic presses every time you were a hole down.

"And he lost a boatload playing for only a nominal denomination," Woods chirped.

But Woods said doing it then -- and having low rounds in tournaments, including a 61 here in 2000 -- meant it wasn't uncomfortable when he got in that position Friday.

Still, with five holes to go, and needing two birdies, he couldn't produce them.

"Would it have been nice to shoot 59? Yeah, it would have been nice," Woods said. "I certainly had the opportunity. I had five holes to go. Two more out of five holes. And if you look at it, I had two good chances at 15 and 17 to do it. But the par putt at 18 was even bigger."

Not to be lost is the fact that Woods had an eagle, seven birdies and no bogeys -- despite a few wayward drives that had him scrambling. At both the sixth and 18th holes, he made par putts longer than 20 feet and ended the day with just 22 putts.

"His ballstriking is what led to that 61," said Woods' caddie, Joe LaCava. "What I was most impressed with was he was hitting all the shots that were called for. If the pin was tucked and he needed to hit a cut, he did. If he needed to hit a draw, he did. I know people think his putting was great -- and it was -- but his ballstriking was the reason he shot 61."

As with a no-hitter in baseball, there was no discussing the 59 during the round, LaCava said. Clearly after Woods birdied his first four holes on the back nine, the magical number came into play. That he ended the round with five straight pars and still shot 61 is another way to look at the impressiveness of the accomplishment.

"He's obviously on his game," said England's Chris Wood, who will play with Woods and defending champion Keegan Bradley during the third round. "I said to my caddie on the range, [Woods] was hitting balls next to me this morning and he looked really impressive, totally in control."

That, ultimately, is what Woods cares about the most. When Woods hits the ball as he did Friday, it is nothing short of inspiring, regardless of the final score. And, above all, he's trying to win the tournament, and a win on Sunday would be his fifth of the year on the PGA Tour and the 79th of his career.

He could have tried to go for the green at the par-5 16th, for example, in the quest to shoot 59, putting his lead at risk. But the world's No. 1 wants the ultimate prize, not a nice milestone along the way.

Still, a 59 would have been nice to add to the career list of achievements, although Woods didn't seem too upset.

"Absolutely not, nope," he said. "Sixty-one is pretty good. I'm not bummed."

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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