By Michael Beaven
Beacon Journal sports writer
Tiger Woods is on the prowl again in Akron.
Woods, already a seven-time champion at Firestone Country Club, put together another memorable performance Friday when he shot a 9-under-par 61 in the rain to match the South Course record. The 61, combined with a 66 on Thursday, has him atop the leaderboard at 13 under after two rounds of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
Defending champion Keegan Bradley and Chris Wood are tied for second, 7 shots behind Woods after both carded 68 Friday.
“I felt like I putted well today,” Woods said. “I hit a lot of good putts [Thursday]. I don’t think I missed a putt inside 10, 12 feet [Thursday], and today was like that.”
His play had spectators buzzing about a possible round of 59, which is the PGA Tour record held by five players. A television audience on the Golf Channel took in the moments, as a “Tiger 59 watch” appeared on the bottom right off the screen.
“I shot it [a 59] at home back in ’97 [at Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Florida],” Woods said. “I was playing with Mark O’Meara [recreationally].”
Woods was asked if this round was among his top 10 or 20 of his illustrious career that includes 78 PGA Tour victories since turning pro in 1996.
He smiled, collected his thoughts and said: “Certainly it’s up there, but I don’t know about top 10. I remember I had four of them at Pebble Beach that one year in 2000. Three of them were pretty good at Augusta in ’97, so we’re at seven right there.”
Woods, 37, then flashed his signature large grin again as he continued to reflect on how he gained separation in a field of 73 golfers, 48 of whom are in the top 50 world rankings.
“I had a lot of control today from tee to green and obviously the way I putted,” he said. “I felt I was in total control of my game. Obviously, things like that don’t happen every day, and it’s fun when it all comes together and I was able to take advantage of it, especially on a golf course like this. This is not exactly an easy golf course. As you can see, 6 under is in second, so the guys aren’t tearing this apart. The fact that I was able to shoot what I shot today, I’m very proud of that.”
Woods, who shot a 61 at Firestone in the 2000 WGC-NEC Invitational, shares the course record with Jose Maria Olazabal (1990 NEC World Series of Golf). Woods also carded a 62 in the 1999 WGC-NEC Invitational. Woods holds the course record with a 259 in 2000, surpassing Olazabal’s 262 in 1990.
“I would have to say that was probably a little bit more difficult to do, coming off of the PGA win [in 2000],” Woods said. “We were all pretty tired at the time. ... I was in a playoff, and to try and win three in a row that year, the emotional energy that that took, it was tough.”
Woods made playing golf look easy Friday when he pounced quickly on the competition.
“I got off to a really nice start,” Woods said. “I was 4 under through three [with birdie-eagle-birdie]. I made a huge save [of par] at 6, drove it left and pitched out and hit a 6-iron in there to about 25 feet left of the hole, made that. Stuffed it at 7 and made that [for birdie]. Made nice birdies at 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 was a big save [for par].”
Woods brought the crowd to its feet one final time on No. 18 when he buried a putt from 26 feet, 2 inches to save par and finish off his 61.
“I hit a lot of good iron shots today,” Woods said. “Would it have been nice to shoot 59? Yeah, it would have been nice. I certainly had the opportunity. ... Am I disappointed? Absolutely not. Nope. Sixty-one is pretty good. I’m not bummed.”
There are six American players in the top 10 with Woods, Bradley, Bill Haas, Jim Furyk, Jason Dufner and Bubba Watson.
Bradley made birdies on Nos. 2, 10, 11 and 18 and bogeyed 4 and 7.
“The wind is very up and down, but there’s definitely some pins that you can get at with these wet conditions,” Bradley said. “You’ve got to drive the ball in the fairway in order to do that.”
Wood, of England, made birdies on Nos. 1, 6, 15 and 16 and bogeyed 5 and 18. He is set to tee off with Bradley and Woods today on No. 1 at 1:10 p.m.
“I’ve never been out with [Woods],” Wood said. “He’s been my golfing hero since I was 10 when I started the game, really. To be out with the world No. 1, Tiger Woods, is going to take a bit of getting used to.”
Haas and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson are tied for fourth, 8 shots behind Woods.
Furyk, Dufner and Watson are in a four-way tie for sixth with England’s Luke Donald, 8 shots off the pace.
Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat shot a 68 Friday to take over 10th place at 3 under.
American Webb Simpson led after Thursday with a 64, but he dropped into a tie for 16th with a 75 Friday.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the Bridgestone Invitational blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/bridgestone-invitational. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.