Tiger’s ailing, but his game’s just fine

Tiger Woods is sick, hacking constantly into his golf towel, but neither being under the weather nor having to endure miserable weather could dampen his spirits on Friday.

Not when he had command over his golf ball in a manner eerily similar to, dare it be said, his best.

Woods finds himself just one stroke off Rory Sabbatini’s lead going into the weekend at the Memorial, a tournament he’s won four times, after shooting a very impressive 3-under-par 69 in cold, rain and gusting winds.

Muirfield Village — the place Jack Nicklaus built, where, as Woods says, a golfer “can‘t fake it” — always has been an elixir for whatever ails Woods.

He’s shot par or better in 22 of his past 23 rounds here, leads the field in greens in regulation this week and on Friday stuck 10 of his 18 approach shots inside 15 feet.

If anything, 69 was about the highest score he could’ve shot given three missed birdie putts from 3, 5 and inside 6 feet and a botched chip — still his nemesis — that led to the most unnecessary of double bogeys on the par-3 12th.

“It’s not about magic or past experience; it’s just about controlling my golf ball and staying in the present,” Woods said.

“That’s one thing you have to do on this golf course. It forces you to do that, because there’s no letup in it.

“Yesterday (Thursday), we had hard and fast conditions. Today they’re soft, but it’s windy and blustery and gusty and it’s swirling in those trees.

“It’s two different tests, but nevertheless great tests.”

It was a test too great for Rory McIlroy, whose recent tailspin continued with a woeful 79 on Friday that led to his third straight missed cut.

It’s the first time since 2008 that the Northern Irishman has missed three cuts in a row.

He was on top of the world last June when he won the US Open in record fashion, but McIlroy cut a forlorn figure as he left the media center late Friday, unsure of where he was going, literally, and perhaps figuratively, too.

“It just seems like every time I go out there, I make one or two big numbers and that sort of throws me,” said McIlroy, who had no birdies but two double bogeys.

“I just need to keep working on it and try and string 18 good holes together.

“I hit some good shots out there. I’m definitely hitting the ball better than I did last week, so I can see an improvement.

“But I’ve still got a long way to go.”

And not a lot of time to get there. The US Open is in two weeks’ time, at San Francisco’s exacting Olympic Club, a course that demands an accuracy that’s missing from McIlroy’s game.

Woods, however, seems to be ripening at the right time.

The career-worst tie for 40th at the Masters followed by the missed cut at Quail Hollow and the middle-of-the-pack finish at The Players seem behind him, though as he himself cautioned, there is a long way to go before this tournament’s end.

“I’m more pleased with the work I’ve done this past week and the things that I’m supposed to be doing that for the past few tournaments I wasn’t able to do,” he said.

“This is the way that I hit the ball at Bay Hill and the way I hit it at the end of last year.

“That’s what’s exciting about it.”

What most heartened him was that he — with the exception of the 12th, where he flew a 7-iron too far — controlled his distances.

Indeed, he began his second round with a pinpoint iron into the first, to about 18 inches, setting up his first birdie on that hole since 2000.

“If you look at over the course of my career, I think that’s one thing that I’ve been very good at, hitting the ball pin high,” he said.

“The last couple days, I’ve done that.”

Two days, but two still to go.