SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Tiger Woods on Friday made his first 36-hole cut since the Masters. That is the first time that sentence has ever been written in October. Or, come to think of it, written in any month outside of April or May.
That is reflective of the fact his 2011 season has been one of injury and rust and swing transition. Healthy since early August, Woods finally showed signs of his old dominant self, as well as a tendency to miss left off the tee, in a 3-under 68 in the incomplete Frys.com Open second round at CordeValle Golf Club.
The good news for Woods is that he qualified for the weekend, made six birdies against three bogeys, hit several brilliant iron shots, reached 14 greens in regulation and putted much better than he had in a Thursday round of 73 he called one of his worst on the greens.
Having added a couple of strips of lead tape to his putter, he reached the hole with regularity. While he did miss three times in the 6- to 9-foot range, he did make four putts outside of 7 feet, including one from 24.
“For me (putting) starts with posture,” he said after posting 1-under 141. “I hit one bad putt. I fixed my posture with the putter and was able to see the line. I struggled to see the line yesterday (when he missed three putts inside of 6 feet). Today I hit my lines all day.”
As a result, he avoided missing his 10th cut as a professional and second in a row for the first time.
“I don’t like missing cuts, period,” said Woods, who ended the day seven shots off Paul Casey’s lead.. “That means you can’t win the tournament. I’ve got a chance at it this weekend.”
He has that opportunity because he woke up the echoes for the first time since contending at Augusta in April. After he made a bunker-to-bunker bogey at 13, he turned into Tiger Woods again. For a while.
Flirting with the cut line, he made three consecutive birdies on his first nine, at Nos. 14-16. The run ended after he hit a good approach from the left rough to a right tucked pin at 17, but missed from 9 feet. The momentum stalled further with consecutive bogeys at 18, where he pulled a 3-wood tee shot into a hazard, and No. 1, where he hooked a drive and played his second while standing on a cart path.
That represented his downside, for Woods missed seven drives to the left of the fairway. That is far different from recent years, when his mandate to former coach Hank Haney was to take left out of play. Back in those days his misses went right.
Both Woods and Sean Foley, his coach since summer of 2010, attributed the left balls to old patterns creeping into his swing.
“I get into my old posture, and the way I’m rotating through the ball now, that ball is going to go left,” Woods said. “So I just need to get better posture, and when I do, I can hit a fade or a draw. I just get into these lulls where I kind of go back to my old comfort, especially out here when I’m in tournament mode and got to hit shots.
“It’s easy to do it at home. It’s a little harder to do out here.”
Particularly when you’ve been inactive competitively. This is just the second time Woods is playing 72 holes since April. So his goal isn’t just repetitions anymore, the kind that come on a driving range. Now the pet phrase, the necessary next step, is “competitive reps.”
“I haven’t had that many with Sean,” he said.
For his part, Foley said Woods’ swing still wasn’t fully reflective of what they’ve been working on for 14 months.
“Half of his swings were the way I want it and half were a hybrid of what he used to do,” Foley said.
The coach said the intention is for Woods to take half the course out of play, preferrably the left side.
“We want to cut it, but properly, not a blocky, wipey cut,” Foley said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. You need competition. This shows that under the gun he needs work.”
Still, Woods started the day tied for 86th and was T-37th when he walked off his last hole Friday (he now sits at T-41 after the second round was completed on Saturday morning).
He advanced despite hitting but one fairway on his first nine, then five more coming in. The first nine was a mixed bag of those fairway misses (six to the left) and four birdies, two bogeys, three bunkers, one hazard and seven greens in regulation.
In other words, at times he looks like the player who has won 71 PGA Tour titles and 14 majors. At other times he looks like someone with a retooled swing who hasn’t won in two years.
“It’s always a progression,” he said. “You’ve got to do it on the range at home and got to do it on the golf course at home and eventually here and down the stretch and then in major championships and win those bad boys.”
The next step is playing the weekend in northern California. This isn’t a so-called “bad boy.” It’s more of a little guy.
But at this point, Tiger Woods will take anything he can get.