At ease Tiger Woods feeling good
World No. 1 is in position for first major in five years, but can he close this one?
GULLANE, Scotland -- Rather than simply shake hands with Tiger Woods on Muirfield's 18th green, playing partner Graeme McDowell also added a compliment after the second round of the Open Championship.
"That was a clinic the last two days," he said to Woods. "That was very impressive."
The clinic featured an even-par round of 71 Friday and a 69 Thursday, which puts Woods exactly where he wants to be going into Saturday: in contention, in sight of his first major win since 2008 and in a good mood.
"How many drivers did you hit?" asked someone in the post-round presser.
"I've hit, I believe, eight or 10," said Woods, his face straighter than a 1-iron.
"That many?" said the reporter.
"On the range," said Woods, who broke into a smile as he walked toward the exit. "I got you."
OK, it wasn't Second City, but you get the idea. Woods is in a happy golf place. He's also high on the Open Championship leaderboard, which is the only real estate that matters to Woods. He likes rooms with a view.
Woods also likes trophies, especially the ones that come with majors attached. He hasn't hoisted one of those babies in five-plus years and hasn't won a Claret Jug -- the 5.4-pound piece of hardware presented to the Champion Golfer of the Year -- since 2006. So he's due, right?
"He certainly looks like he's very close to being back," McDowell said. "So there will be no surprise to me if he's picking up the Claret Jug on Sunday night.''
Everything is set like a dinner table for Woods to win this thing for a fourth time and add to his career total of 14 major victories. Think about it: only one shot separates him from the lead ... he hasn't had to hit the Satan club -- his driver -- not once ... the course setup and conditions are thinning out the field like weed killer. Plus, his once barky left elbow has been on mute.
Woods hit 11 of 14 fairways Friday. He's had 18 one-putts. He's been patient, conservative and sort of boring.
"Just continue plodding along," he said.
Plodding works. Grinding works. Even-par works ... for now.
There's no way to quantify how much Woods wants to win this major, any major. He has gone so long without one, come so close to winning the next one, that he has to be wondering how this Open Championship movie will end.
Happy ending for Woods: Sunday smooch session with the Claret Jug.
Unhappy ending for Woods: More "why-can't-you-win-a-major" questions.
"I've been right there," Woods said. "I give myself chances."
He had chances at the 2009 Masters and U.S. Open, and he got Y.E. Yanged at the PGA Championship. He had chances at the 2010 U.S. Open and had the Sunday lead with nine holes remaining in the 2011 Masters.
He had the 36-hole leads at the 2012 U.S. Open and PGA and finished T-3 at the Open Championship. And he was in perfect position at this year's Masters, but then hit a flagstick and a rule book during his Friday round.
"If I give myself enough opportunities, I'll get my share -- and I think I have so far in my career,'' Woods said.
That's Tiger's polite way of telling people that he's the only guy in this Open Championship field with double-digit major wins. He's one of the very few guys who creates an awe factor among other players.
"It's like, 'Do I have to follow that?'" said McDowell, who was paired with Woods during the first two rounds. "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."
McDowell was then reminded that he had more major wins in the past five years (the 2010 U.S. Open) than Woods.
"Hadn't thought about it that way,'' McDowell said. "Maybe I should have."
Too late. Woods is playing as though he's tired of watching everyone else give trophy acceptance speeches. And he's had it up to here with the 2008 reminder, or the stat that gets updated after every major miss: Tiger is 0 for the past 16 (and counting) majors he's played in.
Woods is playing well and he's playing smart. Even his swing coach, Sean Foley, hasn't had much to do.
"The stuff I've been seeing on the range is fantastic,'' Foley said. "Did I think it would come out on the course? You hope it does."
It has so far. But nobody hands you a Claret Jug for your Thursdays and Fridays. It's the Saturdays and Sundays that matter in majors. Nobody knows that better than Woods, who used to own them.
"It will be a fun weekend,'' Woods said.
Will it? During his previous six majors, Woods is a combined 11-under in Rounds 1 and 2. In Rounds 3 and 4: 19-over, which is 30 shots worse.
But first things first, beginning with Saturday. If Woods plays well, you won't have to look at the scoreboard.
You'll just have to listen for his deadpan jokes.
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The Open returns to Scotland and Muirfield for the first time since 2002. Who will hold the Claret Jug this time around?