McDowell on Woods: 'He was impressive'

Tiger Woods did his work on the greens on Friday, saving par at 10 (13 feet), 13 (9 feet), 14 (60-foot pitch stiff) and 15 (4 feet).

Tiger Woods did his work on the greens on Friday, saving par at 10 (13 feet), 13 (9 feet), 14 (60-foot pitch stiff) and 15 (4 feet).

GULLANE, Scotland – Tiger Woods played conservatively again, chess-piecing around Muirfield on Friday, chiseling rather than hammering. He had few birdie chances but many good par saves in the second round of the Open Championship. He never hit a driver, for the second day in a row, but teed off with a 7-iron on the 379-yard 12th and with a 5-iron on the downwind, 448-yard 15th.

He is keeping the ball in play on the hard, light brown turf, at all costs, and cleaning up with his putter. Perhaps the game’s best long-iron player, Woods is wearing out his long irons. The patient execution has led to contention. When he holed a 15-foot birdie putt at the last for a three-birdie, three-bogey 71, he walked off with a share of the clubhouse lead at that point. He was 2 under at 140, too hungry and satisfied, too.

“I’m in a good spot,” he understated. He'll enter Saturday's third round one back of Miguel Angel Jimenez and in the penultimate pairing with Lee Westwood.

That means the winner of 14 major championships has a reasonable chance to end that curious drought and win his first major in more than five years. We’ve seen him carve up a course and a field like this before – with a scalpel rather than sword. Royal Liverpool 2006 comes to mind, for he hit but one driver there and bludgeoned everyone with a cleek on similar sun-baked turf.

“I’ve watched how it’s done for two days by T Dub,” playing competitor Graeme McDowell said, abbreviating T.W. “He was impressive.”

Woods maneuvered his way nicely in a 15-mph wind that blew in an opposite direction from Day 1 and on greens slower because they had been watered overnight. For most of the day Woods had trouble getting approach shots or uphill putts to the hole.

On the one hand, he missed a couple of short putts, in the range of 4-5 feet, at Nos. 4 and 8. On the other, he made nice par saves at 10 (13 feet), 13 (9 feet), 14 (60-foot pitch stiff) and 15 (4 feet).

“I do feel good over it,” Woods said of his putter.

For certain, his short game is far better than it was in his last two starts, when he tied for 65th at the Memorial and 32nd at the U.S. Open. That’s part of the reason McDowell likes Woods’ chances.

“He will be very hard to beat the way he’s playing,” McDowell said. The Ulsterman also said this: “I found myself being too full of admiration at times.” And this: “It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s picking up the Claret Jug on Sunday night.”

Woods is not about to alter his game plan now. His aim will be to dink off the tee and dunk around the hole.

“Just continue plodding along,” Woods said of his weekend strategy. “Just continue being patient, putting the ball in the right spots. We’re not going to get a lot of opportunities out there, but when I have, I’ve been able to capitalize.”

Not always. He gunned a bump-and-run chip well past at the ninth and hit a poor pitch at the 17th, thus failing to birdie those par 5s. And he failed to convert at the 12th, on his best birdie chance since No. 5, missing from 10 feet.

But when he succeeded at 18, his putter went up, held high in his left hand, reminiscent of the man whose major record he’s chasing, Jack Nicklaus.

“He hung in with his putter the last two days,” McDowell said.

Yes, the shortest stick in his bag. As for the longest club in there, it was no factor.

When someone unfamiliar with the extent of his bunting asked how many drivers the World No. 1 had hit, Woods answered, “I’ve hit about eight or 10.” Seconds after seeing a few incredulous looks, Woods smiled and added, “On the range. I got you.”

Little wonder McDowell said he had to double-check with Woods’ caddie to make sure there was actually a driver under the Tiger headcover.

But then Woods hardly needed the big stick, for the ball bounces forever on the hardpan. To wit: Woods hit a couple of 6-iron shots that traveled 275 yards and a sand wedge that went 180.

“It’s what this golf course does,” Woods said. “It’s so quick.”

Expect more of the same. Muirfield doesn’t figure to slow down. The question now is whether Woods will.

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