Some golfers who had missed the previous 11 weeks due to injury would have already written off the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational as a tune-up for next week’s PGA Championship.
Some who are 7 shots off the lead with two rounds to go might be saying they’re easing back into competition, especially if they had been able to hit balls seriously for about two weeks.
But that kind of thinking has never been in Tiger Woods’ DNA.
“Why show up at a tournament if you’re not there to win?” Woods said Friday after carding a 1-over 71 that left him tied for 36th at 1-under par, 7 shots behind leaders Ryan Moore, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley.
Pressed that others returning from injury might feel differently, Woods fired back, “I’m not like other guys.”
Part of that response could come from the fact that Woods has seven victories at Firestone Country Club. The rest could be his building confidence in his swing.
Left knee and Achilles injuries healed and his leg pain-free, Woods’ biggest problem the first two days has been distance control.
“I’m hitting the ball so much farther,” he said. “I’ve got so much more compression, the ball is just going. I’ve got to get used to that and trust the number. I’m hitting numbers I’ve never hit before.”
Woods seemed baffled because the hot and humid playing conditions in Akron compare to what he has been practicing in in Florida.
“It’s just as hot at home, if not hotter,” he said. “The ball should be flying about the same, but it’s not.”
On Friday, Woods’ driving distance was 300.1 yards, down from 311.4 on Thursday. His 305.8 average for two days is tied for 21st in the field.
“He’s swinging a lot better, an awful lot better,” said his playing partner, Darren Clarke. “It’s good to see.”
In the second round, Woods hit 8 of 14 fairways, up from 5 of 14 on Thursday.
“I know my stat lines don’t show it, but just the way I’m driving the golf ball, the start lines are so much tighter and the shape of the shots is so much tighter,” he said. “I’m so close to putting the ball on a string, so it’s coming.”
But in two other areas Friday Woods regressed. He hit 11 of 18 greens (down from 12 of 18) and needed 29 putts (after 27 Thursday).
“Unfortunately I just didn’t make as many putts today, but I’m close to putting it together,” Woods said.
Playing his second 18-hole round since the Masters, Woods went through roller-coaster stretches on both nines. On the front, he went bogey-birdie-double bogey-birdie on holes 4 through 7. On the back, he bogeyed 14 and 15 and birdied 16 and 17.
If you’re hanging out at the 16th green during the final round on Sunday, you might see a folding chair that appears to be unoccupied. It’s not. It is full of a lifetime of memories.
Edward Suba of Madison was a golf fanatic. He played regularly until his later years, when his health slipped, and he continued to watch the pros right up until the end.
For his 77th birthday in March, his family bought him a ticket to the 2011 Bridgestone Invitational. Seven relatives were going to accompany him. But he passed away in June.
The family is still coming. In the chair where he would have sat will be a photograph of him taken two years ago on the 16th hole by one of his sons, award-winning Beacon Journal photographer Ed Suba.
Ed will be working. Somewhere, his father will be grinning.
It ain’t so bad
Even a 5-year-old can tell a terrible golf shot.
As Aiden Gladysz was traveling down a cart path on his father’s shoulders, he saw an odd configuration of spectators ahead.
“What happened over there?” he asked his father, Brian, of Louisville. “Did somebody get hurt?”
Well, in a sense. The situation certainly pained one of the pros.
The crowd was making way for a horribly errant tee shot off the driver of Gary Woodland. Although Woodland had teed off on No. 9, his ball was closer to the first fairway than the ninth.
Aiden got to see Woodland hit two more painful shots. He clipped a tree on his second shot and was still more than 100 yards away on the par 4. Then he deposited his third shot into a trap short of the green.
But Aiden, my boy, these guys are good. Really good. From 58 feet away, Woodland blasted out of the trap and into the cup, somehow salvaging a par.
He certainly looked the part. And the last name fit, too.
But a 14-year-old boy from Warren, dressed in a fluorescent orange outfit befitting his alleged cousin, Rickie Fowler, who really wasn’t; his dad finally confessed.
Ryan Fowler had just watched Rickie bomb a 358-yard drive on No. 8 when a photographer approached and joked with the boy about his flamboyant outfit, which was only slightly less overpowering than Fowler’s neon green shirt and royal blue pants. Ryan said he was following Fowler because he is related to him.
His father later admitted that there’s no relation. “He’s a good golfer,” said Don Fowler, “and people are always asking if he’s related, so he just says yes.
“He has all the gear [Fowler-endorsed clothing]. It gets expensive!”
Laird enjoys wedding bliss
Scotland’s Martin Laird, 28, is in contention despite dealing with the distraction of being a newlywed.
Laird has had rounds of 66 and 67 that have him in a tie for fifth place with a score of 7-under 133 at the end of the second round.
This comes just after he was married last Saturday to Meagan Franks in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in a ceremony attended by 140 guests, including many family members from Scotland.
Laird has played little golf in the weeks leading up the Bridgestone Invitational, which he believes has helped him.
“To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect this week, and that’s maybe why I am playing well,” Laird said. “I hadn’t touched a golf club in two weeks apart from playing nine holes with my friends and some of my family Friday before the wedding.
“I came into this week feeling fresh and on a high after getting married Saturday. Sometimes, you come in here and it’s amazing when you have no expectations how well you play.”
Keegan Bradley, 25, who is tied for the lead as a Firestone rookie, said that seeing Woods play here and at other venues has been an inspiration for him and other young golfers.
“I just think there’s a lot of really good young players on the PGA Tour right now and I think it is a by-product of Tiger. We all grew up watching Tiger play this golf course,” said Bradley, who is in his second year on tour. “I can remember, when I am out there playing, shots that he’s hit.
“My age group, literally, grew up watching him. I think you are seeing a group of guys that are trying to be like Tiger as much as possible. It’s difficult to do, but he’s inspired all of us, definitely.”
Bradley credits Mickelson
Bradley said another veteran superstar, Phil Mickelson, has helped him a lot in his two years on tour. He said some advice in a practice round earlier in the week helped him sink an 11-foot birdie putt on No. 3 Friday.
“The pin is front right. Phil, I played with him on Wednesday, and he said for me to come over here and hit this putt. The putt breaks left, and it looks like it breaks right. And, sure enough, I had this exact putt today that he brought me over to. I putted it left and it went in dead center. That was pretty cool. I wanted to make it so bad so I could go back and tell him later tonight.”
In the second round Friday, the easiest hole for the second consecutive day was the par-5 No. 2, which yielded an average score of 4.776, or .224 under par. It had two eagles, 21 birdies, 47 pars, four bogeys and two double bogeys. The hardest hole was the par-4 No. 9, which played to an average of 4.316 or .316 over par. It had three birdies, 50 pars, 20 bogeys, two double bogeys and one triple bogey.
In the field of 76, there were 31 players over par, 31 under par and 14 at par.
Youth is served
The Bridgestone Invitational is a World Golf Championships event.
The average age of the past four WGC tournament champions (Nick Watney, Luke Donald, Francesco Molinari and Hunter Mahan) is 29 years, one month and six days. The average age of the champions in the prior six events (Ernie Els, Ian Poulter, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods) was 36 years and six months.
On the PGA Tour this season, there has been 12 players in their 20s win tournaments and 12 other players in their 30s win tournaments.