MELBOURNE, Australia – In wind strong enough to blow sand out of the bunkers and kick up dust along the sandy terrain, Tiger Woods squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to clear his vision.
That was the least of his problems Friday in the Australian Masters.
He found himself going back to his old swing to help cope with the blustery conditions at Victoria Golf Club, and he turned in a performance that fans around the world are used to seeing this year.
One day after a promising round, Woods began a slow slide down the leaderboard.
With consecutive bogeys on the back nine that killed his momentum, Woods shot a 1-over 72 in the second round and wound up nine shots behind Adam Bland, who played in the same conditions and shot a 4-under 67.
Bland, who will be in the second stage of PGA Tour qualifying school next week, was at 10-under 132 and had a two-shot lead over Andre Stolz, who won in Las Vegas six years ago when Woods was going through his last swing change.
For Woods, it was the seventh time in 14 tournaments that he was at least nine shots behind going into the weekend. The Australian Masters is his last time as the defending champion, and he hasn’t come close the four other times. His best finish in a title defense was a tie for 15th at the BMW Championship in Chicago. He was nine back after two rounds at Cog Hill, too.
“It was frustrating because I hit the ball well pretty much off the tee, and wasn’t quite as sharp with the irons,” Woods said.
Woods was at 1-under 141, tied with Camilo Villegas, who shot a 70.
He began his second round aiming for the front right bunker on the 257-yard par 4, hit into the middle bunker but still left himself a simple sand save for birdie. Then came the par-5 ninth, where he ripped a driver to set up another birdie.
Those were the highlights.
Through two rounds, he is tied for third in fairways hit and tied for sixth in greens in regulation. But he is tied for 104th in putting.
“I over-read every putt because the greens were slower than yesterday,” Woods said.
Still, most disappointing was his first big test in the wind as he continues to learn a new swing from Sean Foley. It was howling and raining at the Ryder Cup, but play was stopped after an hour because of soggy conditions. Woods had to cope with 20 mph wind for some five hours at Victoria, and he didn’t do it very well.
“It was tougher today,” he said. “When the wind blows this hard, just like anybody I tend to revert back to some of the old stuff. I struggled with that today. I tried to be as committed as I possibly could. It was a little more difficult than I thought it should have been, but I got through it.”
The rain began falling soon after Woods hooked his final tee shot, and more – much more – is expected. The forecast was for heavy rain to start falling overnight and throughout much of the third round, this after Melbourne already has gone through an unusually wet time of the year.
Stuart Appleby, not among the five players the Australian Masters promoted, had a 69 and was in the group at 2-under 140. Geoff Ogilvy, who has been home in Australia for the last six weeks and is not going back to America until he defends his title in Hawaii, birdied the last two holes for a 70 and brought him back to par.
As ordinary as Woods looked, the bigger surprise was Sergio Garcia. He took two months off after the PGA Championship to clear his head, returning last month to two tournaments in Spain. He signed up for the Australian Masters in the spring. Otherwise, he might not be here.
But it’s working out well.
Garcia thrives in the wind because of his pure ball-striking, and when a few putts fall, the game can be fun again. Still, the 30-year-old Spaniard wasn’t ready to declare himself back to form with one good round.
“It’s slowly getting better, but I can go out there tomorrow and shoot 75,” he said. “I’m just taking it slowly. I’m just taking the positives out of everything. Don’t get me wrong – I’m trying to shoot the best score I can, but making sure a bad round doesn’t get to me too much.”
Bland, a left-hander from Australia, played the Nationwide Tour this year and didn’t come close to finishing in the top 25 to earn his PGA Tour card. Instead, he leaves for California on Sunday night for the second stage of Q-school.
“I haven’t been playing well, so I thought I would use this event to try and get a little bit of confidence, and hopefully build some game, something I can go over there with, that can get me through those two stages,” Bland said.
Woods is looking for confidence, too, and not finding it.