Tiger passes patience test at US Open
"Well," said an exhausted Tiger Woods, "That was not easy. That golf course was some kind of quick."
The Olympic Club, as it did to every golfer on Friday, tested Woods’ patience as much as his game.
His swing wasn’t as flowing, and didn’t come as easily as it had in the first round, but Woods ranked Friday’s even-par 70 as a better feat, and not just because it elevated him into a tie for the lead at the midway point of the 112th US Open.
"It was just one of those days where you just had to be so patient," he said. "And I did a good job of that."
After two grueling days, it’s probably not a coincidence that Woods sits atop the leaderboard with veteran major champions Jim Furyk and David Toms, the only other players in red numbers.
All three are, at heart, grinders who play smart and know how to manage their way around difficult golf courses.
Toms said the difference between them was that "Tiger has a little more flare for the dramatic, shots that he can hit."
"But that’s why he’s been able to win so many golf tournaments … he still knows how to manage it and have control over what he’s doing."
Woods got off to a cautious start, playing away from the pin on the converted par-5 opening hole. Then, for the first time this week, he dropped his club in anguish on the second tee after his ball darted into the left rough.
Since early 2010, that’s often been a signal that things are about to fall apart, but this time Woods made a wonderful par save, then fed off that momentum by making birdie on the par-3 third to get to two-under par.
He had some of that old swagger as he left that green, and some wondered whether he’d start to run away with this championship.
But three straight bogeys — the last of them unforgivable as it was a three-putt that came on a driveable par 4 — derailed him.
Suddenly, he looked more like the erratic Woods we’ve seen for two years.
But he steadied his ship, making birdies on 10 and 13 to get back to under par for the tournament.
Birdie opportunities coming home — particularly on the two par 5s, 16 and 17 — were wasted, but that was more a product of bad bounces as poor swings.
In the end, he wasn’t complaining.
"I feel good about what I’m doing out there," he said.
Phil Mickelson, who made birdie at the last hole just to make the cut, played alongside Woods and also liked what he saw from his rival.
"He has great control of his ball striking, and he’s able to hit a lot of the fairways," Mickelson said. "He’s got a very good low shot with his long irons, 3-wood, as well as his 4 and 5, 6-irons.
"There’s a lot of 4 or 5, 6-irons off these tees and he’s shaping them well, getting it in play and then he hit a lot of 4, 5, 6-irons into the greens, and he’s doing that extremely well, too."
As he was after the opening round, Woods was subdued on Friday evening. He knows there’s much work left for him if he’s to win his first major championship in four years.
Obviously, though, he liked his position.
"I think I’m in a good spot," he said.
And although it’s been a while, the three-time US Open champion remembers what it takes.
"This tournament you’re just plodding along,” he said. "This is a different tournament. You have to stay patient, got to stay present, and you’re just playing for a lot of pars.
"This is not a tournament where we have to make a bunch of birdies. Just got to just hang in there with a bunch of pars. Being patient is certainly something that we have to do in major championships and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that over the years.
"I won my fair share, and I understand how to do it."
He’s said that he’s felt confident before, but maybe the difference this week is that he knows he’s armed with a swing to get the job done.
"It’s one thing to game plan but you also have to execute the game plan," he said. "And I think that’s one of the reasons why I was so excited about how I hit the ball at Memorial (where he won, two weeks ago), because that’s what I needed to play here.
"I hit the ball so well there and (with) the different trajectories, that was big for me. And to come here and then be able to shape it like this, because I have to … I’ve done a pretty good job of that for the first two days."
Now, it’s about the next two days.