LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – For the second consecutive day, Tiger Woods bunted his way around and hit 13 of 14 fairways. So it’s uncertain whether we should fancy him as Ty Cobb or Calvin Peete.
It is clear, though, that entering the weekend of the 141st Open Championship everyone should consider him a prime contender to win his 15th major tournament. A second 3-under 67, again forged with a more conservative bent than that of Britain’s Tory Party, elevated Woods into third place, four strokes behind midway leader Brandt Snedeker.
“I’m very pleased at where I’m at,” Woods said moments after holing a bunker shot at 18 for his fourth birdie of the day. “I’m right there in the mix. With the weather that’s forecast on Sunday (30 mph wind) and tomorrow, it’s going to be a good weekend.”
Teeing off with long iron after long iron, Woods is handling Royal Lytham in the safety-first manner in which he won the 2006 Open a bit down the coast road at Hoylake. A day after hitting but two drivers, he used a driver on No. 2 and a 3-wood at the third. Other than that, he pulled all irons, as short as the 6-iron he employed at the short par-4 16th.
So amazed by Woods’ successful strategy, BBC Radio golf commentator Ross McFarlane, a former PGA European Tour winner, gushed, “If someone said you could go around this golf course using only irons, I’d say he was bonkers.”
It is safe to say no one else has played so carefully. The way it looked Friday, Woods could get by using a version of a junior set here. It appeared he could use about half his bag–maybe 3-wood, 2-iron, 4-iron, 5-iron, two wedges and a putter.
If there were such a thing as a Seven-Club Division, he’d be leading easily, and not just because he’d be the only player in it.
Punch lines aside, the method has suited him well. He controlled his ball beautifully Friday, hitting 14 greens in regulation. His lone bogey came after he missed his only fairway, at the 598-yard 11th, where he went from the right to left rough and didn’t reach the green until his fifth shot.
This was his rote in a second day of calm, soft conditions: Grab an iron, twirl the club, find the fairway, never mind that he might be 50 to 70 yards behind a playing competitor.
“I figured I had a game plan that I thought would fit well on this golf course,” the winner of 74 PGA Tour titles said. “And I figured I could execute it. And I’ve done that so far.”
Yes, he has. But he also excelled with the iron-after-iron conservative approach through 36 holes at last month’s U.S. Open. He was the midway co-leader then. But then he started missing fairways with those long irons, faced long approach shots from heavy rough, missed greens, made bogeys and fell out of contention.
So the key is execution. It’s unclear whether his brilliance will continue. What seems certain is that he will continue dinking his way around and playing underneath.
“It’s just patience on a golf course like this,” Woods said. “I’m hitting the ball in the fairway, and that’s the thing around this golf course. You just have to do that. You can’t control it out of the rough here. And obviously the pot bunkers, you can’t do anything but come out sideways.”
Woods described the rough as being “so long that it doesn’t grab the hosel, it grabs shafts.” In other words, that’s enough to prompt him to keep the head covers on his longest clubs.
“You can take your chances (with drivers), but you’d better pull it off,” Woods said. “Or be conservative and play to different spots.”
Woods’ plan means he has some very long approaches into par 4s. For example, he was left with 220 yards at the 462-yard 15th.
Hitting 4-irons and the like into greens also means good birdie chances are limited. But Woods took advantage of his, making putts of 6 feet at the fourth, 18 feet at the sixth and 25 at No. 16. The holeout from the pot bunker to the right of the 18th green was an unexpected bonus that prompted two air punches and a high-five with caddie Joe LaCava.
“It wasn’t as hard as it may have looked,” Woods said. “Because I was on the upslope, I could take out the (bunker face) steepness. … I played it about a cup outside the left and it landed on my spot and rolled to the right.”
When the ball disappeared into the hole after 7 p.m., the remaining spectators in the oversized bleachers generated a roar that could be heard holes away. It didn’t take much to realize another Woods Alert had been sounded.