Tiger Woods burns bright at Firestone with a 61
American holds seven-shot lead over the field, Rory McIlroy one over after a 71
The old magic was back, as Tiger Woods produced a near-perfect performance in the second round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
And if the elusive 59 – which had seemed within his grasp for so long – eventually evaded him, as a once-hot putter turned slightly cool with that grand prize in sight, the world number one still produced a 61 that moved him into a commanding seven-stroke lead over Keegan Bradley and Chris Wood.
For 13 holes, Woods played perfect golf. He was nine-under-par and seemingly on course for the one golfing goal that has evaded him in competition: a sub-60 round! He came up short, but it wasn’t for the want of trying as he had birdie putts on the 15th and 17th – which stayed out – before demonstrating his fighting qualities with a par save from trees on the 18th.
“I had it going,” said Woods, who had started with a dynamic run of birdie-eagle-birdie to show his intent. “I could have done it. I’ve done it before (in non-competitive rounds). I felt pretty relaxed out there. I have been in these positions before where I have gone that low and it wasn’t out of the realm of being uncomfortable.”
As it happened, Woods came up short – equalling his low competitive round and also the course record which he set at Akron in 2000 – but, in the bigger picture, established a position of strength in his quest for a fifth win of the season.
Woods, who has won seven times in this event in his career, started with a three-footer for birdie on the first, rolled in a left-to-right breaking putt from 20 feet for eagle on the second and sank a 12-footer for birdie on the third to lay down his intent from the start.
Even when an errant shot cropped up, like a pulled drive on the sixth which left his ball behind a tree, Woods recovered (punching back out to the fairway and then hitting his approach to 25 feet and holing the par putt).
On the 13th, where another poor drive saw his ball rebound back to the fairway, Woods made the most of his good fortune by hitting his approach to 15 feet and sinking the putt for a fourth straight birdie as he produced a master class.
Thereafter, it was about chasing the magic number . . . but it was not to be, not on this occasion. Of his birdie chances coming in, Woods remarked: “I hit a good shot on 15, (but) blocked the (birdie) putt. (On the par 5) 16 I laid up on a perfect number but was on a slight downslope. I had to go ahead and play safe, play long. (On) 17, I stuffed it in there. I talked myself out of the first initial read. I got back behind the golf ball, (saw) going to break a little more and I didn’t go with it.”
The putter which had been so hot up to then had gone cold.
Still, on the 18th, his raised putter to the grey skies when sinking a par putt after an adventurous route to the green that saw his drive pushed right and his recovery approach catch a tree, emphasised his desire and will to win. He might have seven Bridgestones on his CV, but there is room for more.
“It’s only the second round, there’s a long way to go . . . this has put me in a nice position going into the weekend,” said Woods, who has been in irresistible form all season with wins in the Farmers Insurance Open, the WGC-Cadillac championship, the Bay Hill Invitational and the Players.
It was the fourth time in his career that he has shot a 61 in a tournament, although he has broken 60 on a number of occasions in non-competitive and social outings. Woods claimed a seven stroke midway lead over Bradley, the defending champion, and England’s Chris Wood who each shot 68s to move to 134.
Rory McIlroy – a week before defending his PGA championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, New York – shot a 71 for 141. His problems were apparent from early on and he suffered a double-bogey six on the 14th, his fifth hole, after driving into heavy rough. He recovered with birdies on the 15th (where he hit a wedge to two feet) and the 16th (holing a birdie putt from 15 feet); however, a bogey on the fifth, cancelled out with his third birdie of the round on the eighth, and then a closing bogey on the ninth left him well adrift of Woods.
McIlroy spent a considerable amount of time on the range after his round.
Graeme McDowell carded a second straight 71 for 142 while Shane Lowry shot a 76 for 148.