CHASKA, Minn. (AP)—Whether it was the annihilation at the ’97 Masters or the rout at Pebble Beach, Tiger Woods’ highlight reel at the majors is well known. Ditto for when he just didn’t have it, like that British Open last month.
But has there ever been a time, Woods was asked, that he, well, choked?
Woods thought for all of about a nanosecond, then shook his head no.
“If Tiger plays the golf he’s capable of on the weekend,” Padraig Harrington said, “he’ll be a winner.”
Sure looks that way.
Woods separated himself from the pack with a run of three straight birdies on the back nine at the PGA Championship, finishing with a four-shot lead. It’s his largest margin after two rounds at a major since the 2005 British Open at St. Andrews, when he led by five.
Oh, and when he’s the 36-hole leader at a major? Yeah, 8-0.
“There’s a long way to go,” he said.
Yes and, theoretically, anything can happen, especially if the wind gusts like it did Friday. But he came to Hazeltine National having won his last two tournaments and he appears to be hitting his stride.
Conditions Friday were tough, with swirling winds playing with putts and turning the greens bumpier than a dirt country road. Other players made runs, a few even climbing into a share of the lead. One by one they dropped away, while the opportunistic Woods picked his spots on his way to a 2-under 70. Of the top 16 players going into the second round, he was the only one to break par.
Vijay Singh (72), U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover (70) and Brendan Jones (70), the Australian whom Woods beat in his return to competition in February at Match Play, all played in the morning. Harrington and Ross Fisher, who closed with two bogeys for a 68 to fall out of the lead, had to cope with the fierce conditions of the afternoon.
Phil Mickelson, who has played sparingly this summer as his wife and mother battle breast cancer, struggled on the greens again and had to wait most of the day to find out he made the cut on the number.
“You’re going to make bogeys, you’re going to make mistakes out there today. Sometimes it’s going to be your fault, sometimes it’s going to be bad timing on the wind,” Woods said. “You just limit those mistakes somehow and if you have an opportunity to take advantage of it and make a birdie, you can’t afford to miss those opportunities.”
Woods made a 12-footer to save par on No. 12, avoiding his second bogey in three holes. Then, just as Fisher claimed a share of the lead, he made his move.
Tees on the 14th hole had been moved up because of the wind, shortening it to a measly 299 yards. That’s like a putt-putt hole for Woods, who drove the green with a 3-wood. He nearly holed his 35-footer from the fringe for eagle, dropping to his knees when it stopped mere inches from the hole.
He hit another 3-wood through the green on the par-5 15th, chipping to tap-in range. He finished the run with a 20-foot birdie on 16, a putt that sure seemed like a finale.
“Personally, I’d love the challenge,” Fisher said. “What better way to test yourself than playing against the best player in the world by a country mile? That will show you where your game is at. Right now, my game is in really, really good shape.”
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Brave talk. Except that Fisher had a chance to turn up the heat on Woods on Friday and fell apart.
Fisher had the round of the day through the first 16 holes, bogey-free and 6 under (4 under was the best round of the day). But his tee shot on 17 landed in the heavy stuff on a downslope off the green, and he ran his 15-footer to save par past the hole.
His drive on 18 sprinted through a trap and just into the rough, giving him a tough shot from an awkward stance. He found more rough on the opposite side of the fairway, and wound up with a tough up-and-down that he couldn’t make.
“I think he’s in a good position,” Harrington said. “The reason he’s a good front-runner is he can pick and choose his shots, and he’s not been pushed into shots that he doesn’t have to hit. And he’s very good at that.”
He has never lost any tournament when leading by four shots going into the weekend.
“In fairness to Tiger, that’s not going to last forever. Maybe he’ll be 60 when it’s broken, but it’s not going to last forever,” Harrington said of Woods’ 8-0 streak at the majors. “Maybe I’ll be the guy who does it. I suppose that’s the way to look at it.”
At least Harrington can say he had the shot of the day Friday, one Woods called “worth the price of admission.”
Not only was he in the bunker off the tee on 15, his ball was on an uphill slope, 301 yards to the green. He pounded a perfect 3-wood—nearly falling over because of the unbalanced lie—and the ball took a big hop over a greenside bunker, rolled through the rough and onto the green.
It stopped 15 feet from the cup.
“He did say to me actually he would have paid to have seen it,” Harrington said. “So I asked him for 50 bucks.”
That could be the closest anyone gets to taking anything away from Woods this week.