Tiger Woods took a step back in the Bridgestone Invitational, only it had nothing to do with his leg.
Woods was a little sloppy at times with his short game, a sign of rust from having not played a tournament in nearly three months, and fell back to the middle of the pack at Firestone with a 1-over 71 on Friday.
He missed a 2-foot putt for par.
A bunker shot from just below the green on the par-5 second hole barely got to the fringe. A shot from the rough that covered the flag took a hard hop over the green and led to a double bogey.
At least he wasn’t limping.
”I didn’t putt as well as I did yesterday, and consequently, I just never got the round going,” Woods said.
The conditions were about the same as they were for the opening round – hot, humid, soft and ripe for low scores. Rickie Fowler had eight birdies and holed out from the fairway for eagle in his round of 64 to share the early lead at 8 under with Adam Scott and Ryan Moore.
Woods wound up seven shots behind, his chances hurt not by the shots he has to make up on the weekend, but the number of players in front of him.
The hardest part about not having competed since May 12?
”It’s usually my short game, but I have a short-game facility in the backyard, so I can’t say that,” Woods said, alluding to his new home in south Florida. ”Here this week, it’s been getting the ball the right number. It’s just as hot at home, if not hotter. The ball should be flying about the same, but it’s not. I’m swinging better, so I’ve got to get used to new numbers.”
He attributed the ordinary round to distance control, an issue he mentioned Thursday. But his short game is where he failed to make up any ground.
It started on the 14th hole, when Woods appeared to get out of a jam after his tee shot found the slope of a deep bunker. He hit a wedge for his third shot that spun back to 2 feet from the cup. He stepped over the putt like he would any other from that distance, then stood back in shock when it rimmed around the edge.
On the next hole, he chipped weakly to 7 feet and started walking right after hitting his par putt, knowing he had the wrong line.
The day wasn’t all bad.
Woods fired a 3-iron up the hill to about 5 feet for birdie on the 17th, and bounced back from another bogey – again set up by a poor chip – with a birdie on the fifth. What cost him was the sixth, when his shot out of moderate rough went over the flag, hopped off the back edge of the green and swirled around the collar of a bunker before rolling into the sand.
From a slightly downward slope, the green running away from him, he had no shot.
Woods blasted out through the green, ran his 50-foot putt some 6 feet past the hole and missed that for a double bogey.
”Today was not very good,” Woods said of his putting. ”The path wasn’t very good going back. It was underneath the path and it was under the plane, and it was just not very good.”
That was about as technical as Woods wanted to discuss. Asked about swinging easier and hitting it longer, he finally said to one reporter, ”I don’t want to explain it to you guys.”
Nor was he in much of a mood to change his expectations.
Not much has been expected of Woods this week. He last completed a tournament on April 10 at the Masters. He has one week before the final major of the year at the PGA Championship. He always says, under any circumstances, that he doesn’t show up unless he thinks he can win.
So when he was asked if he should lower his goals, Woods replied quickly, ”No.”
”Never have,” he added. ”Why show up at a tournament if you’re not there to win? There’s no reason to come.”
When it was suggested that other guys might come back from injury with different expectations, Woods didn’t even let the reporter finish the question.
”I’m not other guys,” he said.
Going into the weekend, however, he’s just one of the guys at Firestone.