Tiger's victory: not getting blown away
That’s not usually reason to celebrate when the name on the bag reads “Tiger Woods.”
Yet I got the feeling that this might have been the most important round Woods has played since emerging from the tabloid scandal that engulfed his life.
It wasn’t so much what he did in grinding out a 1-over-par round Friday afternoon at St. Andrews, in some of the most tempestuous winds ever seen at a major championship, as much as what he didn’t do.
He didn’t blow it. Woods is still in the hunt at 8 shots back, and after starting with two bogeys, he easily could have let it slip.
Amid the chaos and confusion of angry 40-mph afternoon winds gusting off the ocean, I think I caught glimpse of the old Tiger — the grinder who found a way to salvage pars when bogeys seemed certain.
If there’s something that’s been missing from his game this year, it’s been the miraculous up-and-downs that have come to define him just as much as the spectacular birdies and eagles.
Woods made 10 bogeys on the weekend at Augusta, and even though his ball-striking wasn‘t good, what really was shocking to me was how the magic touch around the greens had left him.
He missed a couple of par putts on the back nine at St. Andrews on Friday, but so did everyone else. It was that kind of day; a day in which golfers simply hoped to survive, and didn’t dream of prospering.
But Woods made enough big saves to keep himself in the hunt and, in the end, there was even a touch of the theatrical; the big shot at the big moment on the big stage.
Standing in the semi-darkness of the 18th tee — it was almost 10 p.m. — he unleashed his driver into the 357-yard closing hole and watched as his ball ran right past the flag, leaving him a 25-footer for eagle.
It’s true that the Tiger of Torrey Pines in 2008 would’ve made that putt, but this one seemed content to settle for birdie. Baby steps.
In the meantime, he had the spectators on the edge of their seats again. It’s been a while since he’s made them gasp like that.
If he can channel that Tiger of old over the weekend, it might not be the last time he makes them gasp.
He’s got a long way to go, of course, before he can start thinking of a 15th major.
There are 15 players ahead of him after two rounds, including leader Louis Oosthuizen, who’s admittedly unproven — he’s made the cut only once in six attempts at majors — but eight shots is still eight shots.
“I'm not exactly where I want to be,” Woods acknowledged.
“I'm not 12 under par, but … today was a day I could have easily shot myself out of the tournament, especially (with) the start I got off to, but I put it back together again and pieced together a pretty good round.”
On Thursday the players who went out in the afternoon thought they’d gotten the worst of the weather, and they were right. But on Friday it became clear they were only half right.
The morning starters weren’t playing in a dome, having to deal with wildly fluctuating elements, but neither did they face the carnage that came when the winds started to howl.
Martin Kaymer, who teed off at 9:30, birdied the last to turn in a round of 71. None of the 105 players who followed him managed an under-par round.
“This golf course was tough today,” said Tom Watson, who played in the group behind Woods. “She was naked yesterday, but she put on her boxing gloves today and just hit us with all she had.”
For the first time since the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, the winds played such havoc that play was delayed for an hour and five minutes.
“We thought it might give us a break, and we might come out there with less wind and have a chance at posting some pretty good numbers,” said Woods, who was called off after three-putting the first green for bogey.
“That wasn't the case. It was blowing just as hard when we came back out.”
Officials told Woods that play would continue “on a hole-by-hole basis” given that some greens were more exposed to the winds than others.
But balls weren’t moving only on the greens. Woods’ playing partner, Justin Rose, not wanting to incur a penalty, rushed a swing on the third hole after his ball started to oscillate on the fairway.
“A couple of times I backed off,” Woods said. “I thought it might move.”
He was pleased with his ball striking — even though he struggled with the left-to-right wind that was his undoing last year at Turnberry — and happier with his lag putting from long distances, which comes with the turf on the Old Course’s massive greens complexes.
“Lag putts were very difficult out there, moving all over the place,” Woods said.
“Putter was dancing all over the place on the backswing. You had to get anchored somehow and try and stay stable. It was just a very difficult day. Certainly one of the tougher days I’ve ever played.”
Yet he left the home of golf in the fading light with a smile on his face.