AKRON, Ohio — If Tiger Woods is going to win at Firestone Country Club for the eighth time, it’s probably not going to be this year.
Jim Furyk playing like he’s the one who owns this place is just one reason why.
The first two days of the Bridgestone Invitational have been played in humid, wind-free conditions that would seemingly benefit younger, big-hitting players who can reach back and rip it on this 7,400-yard course that includes a 667-yard hole nicknamed “The Monster.”
Instead, the 42-year-old Furyk is steadily putting along, literally and figuratively. A day after he shot 63 and flirted with the course record of 61 before being derailed by a second bogey, he shot 66 by again making a bunch of putts. Four sand saves on the back nine Friday also helped, as he gave himself a little breathing room heading into the weekend against a loaded field.
Furyk’s two-round score of 11 under is the lowest here since Woods was 15 under in 2000. He leads Spain’s Rafael Cabrera Bello by two shots and Louis Oosthuizen by three.
Woods, at 2 over, is lucky this World Golf Championships event has no cut.
“I grew up on old‑style golf courses, tree‑lined, tight fairways, severe greens sloping back to front,” Furyk said. “I am comfortable on this style of golf course, and I’ve liked it here since the first year I’ve played. I’ve had a lot of success.
“Any time you go to a place where you like the golf course and you’ve played well in the past, you’ve already kind of got over one hump. There’s places that … I don’t particularly care for the golf course or think it suits my game very well. That’s a mental roadblock before the week even starts. It’s much tougher to get over that hurdle and much easier when you like a golf course.”
Furyk lost in a playoff here in 2001, when it was called the NEC Invitational, and finished third in 2006. He has seven top-10 finishes here, most recently a tie for sixth in 2010.
He still has work to do over the next 36 holes, but Furyk is swinging the best putter in the field — he had 12 one-putts Friday and has just 51 putts in two days — and is driving the ball like an old pro and landing it safely. It might take some rain or a really, really hot hand to catch Furyk if he keeps playing steadily.
“This golf course has always been about keeping the ball in the fairway, and I think (it’s about) thinking your way around the golf course, especially if it plays firm and fast,” Furyk said. “But I’ve never really felt that it’s a power-dominated course. I’ve never really stepped up on a tee here and felt like I struggled to compete because of a lack of length at this golf course.”
Woods started Friday morning on No. 10 and hit his first shot of the day into a sloped bunker. He bogeyed that hole and had just one birdie all day while again struggling with his putter. He had 33 putts Thursday and 29 on Friday.
“I’m playing well, that’s the thing,” Woods said. “I’m hitting it well. I’m making nothing. I certainly I didn’t hit it good enough to be 11 under, but I certainly hit it good enough to be right there in the top five going into the weekend.
“Yesterday I was 3 under through 11. If I would have just kept that pace up through the end of yesterday and into today, I’m fine. But I didn’t do that.”