Golf

Woods shows progress with 65 at Deutsche

GolfWeek Jim McCabe
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NORTON, Mass.

For all the panic created by a weather front during Friday’s first round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, one can assume that it was another Earl who had something to do with Tiger Woods’ turnaround.

Somehow, you know Earl Woods drilled into his son’s head the essence of commitment and grit.


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Now, we’re not suggesting Woods heard voices – that’s Madison Avenue stuff for those TV commercials – but say this about him: For all the incomparable stuff he’s done, the mind-boggling routs and the unprecedented winning streaks, he is often more impressive when he’s trying to keep it together just to make a cut.

Now before we introduce Woods’ first bogey-free effort on the PGA Tour since the first round of the 2009 PGA Championship – a tidy 6-under 65 that vaulted him up the leaderboard at the Deutsche Bank Championship – let’s return to a week ago and The Barclays at Ridgewood CC in Paramus, N.J.

Having squandered a share of the first-round lead by shooting a Friday 73, Woods in Round 3 stepped to the first tee and smother-hooked an easy 5-wood out-of-bounds left. You could feel the life sucked out of his chances at victory, and when he bogeyed the par-4 ninth, Woods fell even further behind, both in the tournament and in the FedEx Cup standings.

What he proceeded to do over the next nine holes – make three birdies and six pars – pleased caddie Steve Williams. And when Woods closed with a 67 to get into a share of 12th place, Williams suggested it was the first time all season they had left the golf course pleased.

“I am so proud of him for how he hung in there,” Williams said last Sunday.

Williams could have repeated those words here at TPC Boston, because from 4 over after the first six holes Friday, Woods has strung together nine birdies and 21 pars. OK, so it would be a bit of embellishment to suggest Woods is in the hunt, but he sure took a couple of giant steps forward.

Having started Round 2 with 86 names ahead of him on the leaderboard, Woods finished his morning duties T-27 – a long way from being on the south side of the cut.

“I just felt better today,” Woods said. “I just felt more energetic and ready to go.”

Having shot in the 60s four times in 24 rounds since June, Woods has now done it three times in his last six go-rounds. Now this sort of stat never existed in Woods’ previous life on the PGA Tour, but it goes without saying that 2010 has been like no other season since he entered the pro world.

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Fourteen major championships, 71 PGA Tour wins, seemingly an eternity as the game’s best player – all of that is firmly established. But it doesn’t change the fact that in this season of discontent, Woods the golfer remains a work in progress.

“I’m in a learning curve still. I’m still learning to put this thing together,” he said. He was referring to changes he’s made to his golf swing under the watchful eyes of Sean Foley.

To wonder aloud why Woods – perhaps the greatest golfer the game has ever known – would want to change his swing is to show an ignorance about the game at this level. Everywhere he turns, Woods sees guys hitting it into different area codes, putting brilliantly, honing wedge styles, pushing scores so deep into red numbers that it’s truly head-shaking stuff.

To stay put was to concede way too much. So Woods chose to improve. Only thing is, often in this game, one must take a step back to move two steps forward. Throw in all the off-course distractions – and for the 1,183rd time we’ll acknowledge that they were self-inflicted – and you can understand why Woods has spent the season in places where he’s never visited.

Teeing off early on weekend mornings, for instance.

He was there again Saturday, by virtue of a low position in the FedEx Cup standings, but if there was a sense of desperation given the fact he was situated in a share of 87th place, you’d never know it by the way he played.

Steady, methodical, carefree.

Now to appreciate the swings in Woods’ game and how he finds the ability to dig deep, you can focus on what he did Saturday (11 of 14 fairways, 14 greens) when compared to Friday (6 fairways, 11 greens), or you can harken back to that stretch of golf in early August.

Shooting 74-72-75-77 to outscore just one name in an 80-player field at the Bridgestone Invitational, Woods looked shell-shocked. If that wasn’t rock bottom, he certainly was in the same zip code, and it wasn’t outrageous to wonder if he wasn’t one bad PGA Championship round from packing it in for the year.

We’ll never know, but it’s hard to think in those terms after watching his effortless 65 at TPC Boston. If it didn’t push him into contention, it sure made him feel a part of the festivities. It was a round that started with legitimate birdie chances at each of the first seven holes, then a deft par-save from a nasty greenside bunker at the par-4 eighth.

When Woods drove it wide left at the par-4 ninth, he pulled off a terrific shot, a high right-to-left floater from 160 yards that curved around trees and set up a 17-footer for birdie.

He missed it, but it was a clear sign he was on his game when he most definitely had to be.

“I had to shoot a good one if I was going to move on. I was able to do that,” he said.

Having started the day nine back, Woods trailed by seven halfway through. Small progress in some respects, but still, it’s progress.

And given the year he’s had, any progress is good.

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