Tiger Woods isn’t usually one to throw away shots when he’s in the hunt at a tournament.
But that’s what he did on Friday in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Now he must hope he won’t regret his profligacy on Sunday afternoon.
Woods finished the day with a 2-under-par 70 and the knowledge that he should’ve been closer than four shots off the lead of Justin Rose and Bill Haas.
“I played way better than what I scored today,” Woods said. “I missed a couple of short ones (putts), and I had a rough finish. The score doesn’t indicate how well I played.”
All of that was true.
He played, at times, as well as he can. Effortless swings, penetrating shots that went, mostly, where he was looking.
The birdie on the first was textbook, a tight drawing 5-wood off the tee, then a short iron to 10 feet and a putt he started just outside the left edge and watched curl into the middle of the cup.
The tee shot on No. 2, from 218 yards, was a thing of beauty. He started the draw, a shot he’s sometimes frightened of given its propensity to hook, about 20 feet right of the pin, then watched as it caught a slope and nestled to two feet. Only Gary Woodland hit it closer all day.
But then, the most un-Woodsian of moments.
He tried to jam the putt in but pushed it so that it caught the right lip and didn’t fall. It was such a shocking miss that there was an audible gasp from the galleries.
Woods later would say that he didn’t think the green “was going to snag it quite like that.”
It’s hard to imagine a green snagging a putt from 2 feet.
Yet it happened again on the par-5 12th, where Woods shoved a 3½ footer, again for birdie.
“The one on 12, again, it was a little left-to-righter and I blocked that one,” he admitted. “That one was just a poor putt.”
There was more Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The eagle on the 6th was as good as it gets.
A bombed driver over the water to the deepest part of the ballpark followed by a high, soft 5-iron that ran to within 8 feet of the pin.
It was as beautiful as the finish was ugly.
Woods was one off the lead going into the 16th. On Thursday, he’d hit a 350-yard drive and knocked a wedge to 10 feet on the (alleged) par-5 and made the eagle putt.
On Friday, he found a fairway bunker off the tee, but with a clean lie, a two-putt birdie looked likely. Except he hit his long iron a little fat and it rolled back into the water, leading to his first bogey of the day, on the easiest of holes.
On 17, the exacting par 3 with a tucked pin, Woods tried for a high fade but double-crossed himself. He couldn’t get up and down from over the green.
Then on 18 came a bad drive that forced a play left of the water. From 35 yards, he couldn’t get closer than 20 feet and left the putt an inch short.
“Sixteen was unfortunate," Woods said. “Seventeen, I made a bad swing and 18, I made a bad swing.”
Rose, who played with Woods, and also shot 70, was surprised by what he saw over those closing holes.
“He’s normally a fast finisher,” Rose said. “He actually played really well. I thought he was probably a couple of shots away from shooting 64 today.
“I’m sure he was very disappointed because he actually played some great golf.”
Rose acknowledged that he kept an eye on Woods throughout the day. It was a prudent move given Woods is the defending champion and has won this tournament seven times.
“You always sense his presence,” Rose said. “It’s hard not to, obviously. If you can keep your nose in front of him, you’d probably sign for that right now and take your chances.”
Woods, as is his wont, looked at his glass as half full.
“Now, I’m four back,” Woods said. “I was, at one point, one back and right there.
“The good news is we’ve got 36 holes to go. We’ve got a long way to go. And certainly four shots can be made up.”