Every forward step seems to be met with a setback.
Friday should’ve been a low-stress kind of afternoon for the world No. 1.
For the second straight day, he relied on a bullet-like 3-wood and hit every fairway but one at venerable Ridgewood Country Club.
His irons weren’t as precise as they were on Thursday, when he shot his best round of the year, a 6-under 65; but, nonetheless, it was still the antithesis of the hard work golf’s been for him this year.
Woods hit every green on his first nine holes, made two birdie putts inside 6 feet, and got himself to 8 under par for the tournament, in sole possession of the lead at The Barclays.
It was a kind of story arc that’s played out 71 times before for him on the PGA Tour. And, for a fleeting moment, it almost seemed like old times, when the narrative went how narratives always used to go for him.
But those were other times and Woods was rudely reminded that he’d not yet shaken the motif of his life since last Thanksgiving.
Out of nowhere, it all went pear-shaped.
There were a few putts that got away from him on his front nine, but there really wasn’t any warning of what was to come.
Maybe something could’ve been read into the poor wedge Woods hit into his 10th hole of the day, where he barely escaped with a two-putt par.
Or that he followed that near-miss by sailing the next green, leading to a bogey. But some of that could’ve been explained by the photographer who clicked in Woods’ downswing as he chipped.
“I flinched,” he said afterward. “Luckily, I didn’t fat it or blade it. I was just very lucky.”
He couldn’t birdie the hospitable par-5 third despite nothing more than a long pitch shot left for his third, made par on the fourth, then just butchered the fifth.
Woods drove Ridgewood’s “five and dime” hole on Thursday, leaving himself about 15 feet for eagle.
On Friday, the pin was in the front of the green and Woods didn’t feel comfortable taking out driver on a hole where much of the field was making birdie.
“It was a tough tee shot for me,” he said later. “I had to take something off and hit it in the air. Not an easy thing to do with a driver. I laid up and trusted my wedge game.”
From just 78 yards, Woods spun his wedge back to the fringe. He was aggressive with the 15-footer for birdie but it missed to the right.
Clearly annoyed, he stepped up to tap in the 21-inch putt and missed.
Barely touched the hole.
“Ball was sitting in a hole,” he said later. “I was trying to hit up on it and hook it like I normally do and I didn’t do it. I blocked it. Exact opposite of what I was trying to do.”
He essentially gave a shot and a half back to the field.
As bad as that was, Woods piped his next tee shot — again with a 3-wood — 313 yards, but from just 146 yards fanned a 9-iron to the right, then hit a woeful chip out of the thick rough and missed the 21-footer for par.
Two bogeys and the wheels were coming off.
From the middle of the fairway, Woods sailed the next green, too, but chipped to 3 1/2 feet and converted the par. He finished the round with a bogey after again missing the green from the middle of the fairway.
Somehow, Woods turned an under-par round into a 74 and found himself falling down the leaderboard, all the way into a tie for 14th.
“I hit a couple loose iron shots, but more than anything, I didn’t putt well,” he later bemoaned.
He took 33 putts, five more than he did on Thursday, and said he couldn’t find the right speed on the greens, which got bumpier as the afternoon progressed.
The statistics tell the story. Woods is first in fairways hit, tied for seventh in greens hit in regulation and tied for 71st in putting in the 121 man field.
“It just goes to show you no matter how good you hit it, if you don’t putt well, you don’t (make) good scores,” he said.
Although he clearly wasn’t happy with his finish, Woods tried to focus on the positives. Tomorrow’s a new day (and all that).
He goes into the weekend only four shots back of Jason Day’s lead.
“A good weekend, you play around here and post good numbers, you’ll move up the board,” he said.
“The guys aren’t going to be tearing this place apart.”