Graeme McDowell separated himself from an impressive pack with a brilliant back-nine on Friday at the Tiger Woods World Challenge, firing a 6-under 66 to take a three-shot advantage over three players after 36 holes at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Bo Van Pelt, Jim Furyk and Keegan Bradley are all tied for second at 6 under, while tournament host Tiger Woods is alone in fifth place at 5 under.
Here are 5 Things to take away from Friday’s second round:
• • •
1. G-MAC ATTACK! Graeme McDowell says that he is taking a 10-week break after this tournament.
If he continues to play like he did on Friday, he might want to re-think that.
McDowell started his round on fire, opening with three consecutive birdies to move into a tie for the lead with Nick Watney. He’d bogey the par-4 7th to drop out of the lead, but four birdies on the back-nine, including back-to-back at Nos. 16 and 17, resembled his fabulous late-round play when capturing the 2010 title at the World Challenge – his last victory.
The 6-under 66 tied McDowell’s best round at the World Challenge (3rd round in 2009, 1st round in 2010).
But despite his three-shot advantage, McDowell knows that he must try to extend that, as the course is very receptive due to ongoing wet weather – with the forecast calling for more this weekend.
“I still believe there’s something particularly low out there this weekend for someone. Certainly, 7-, 8-, 9‑under par is not out of the question on this golf course,” said McDowell. “It’s very receptive, and the green surfaces have remained very pure as well. You can make some putts.
“I’ve certainly got my small little cushion going into the weekend, but all I can do is concentrate on my game because like I said, I believe someone will go low this weekend at some point.”
McDowell hasn’t won a tournament since his dramatic victory over Woods in 2010, but does have two second-place finishes in 2012 – the Arnold Palmer Invitational where Woods won; and the U.S. Open, where he played in final group on Sunday.
But even a win at Sherwood isn’t going to stop his extended break.
“I’m looking to the next 10 weeks off being a springboard to 2013, to be honest with you,” said McDowell. “You know, I would love to compete and play well this weekend, you know, really to kind of put a little icing on what’s been a mediocre year.
“Despite the fact that I feel like I’ve played some decent golf this year, I really don’t have a lot to show for myself, and this would be a nice way to finish.”
• • •
2. GRACIOUS HOST: Tiger Woods has won this event a record five times, usually keeping that beautiful Tiger trophy to himself.
He’ll have some work to do this weekend if he hopes to defend his title.
After moving into a four-way tie for the lead early on his back-nine, an ill-timed bogey at the par-3 15th seemed to stop his momentum that he had gained at the turn (three consecutive birdies on 9-11) and he fired a solid 3-under 69 to get within four shots of McDowell.
Woods continued to pick apart Sherwood’s five par-5s, picking up three more birdies on the longest holes on Friday. He also had three on Thursday.
“I felt a lot better about my swing overall,” said Woods. “I had a decent warmup session, but the work I did last night was some of the best I’ve hit the golf ball all year. That was a lot of fun. I just had to come out here and trust it, and when I did, I got into a nice little run there.
“I just need to do that all 36 holes on the weekend.”
Lucky for Woods, he won’t be distracted this weekend, as his alma mater Stanford is playing in the Pac-10 Championship on Friday night. Was he pining to make the short flight up to the Bay Area?
“I thought about it, but instead I’m just going to go to my buddy’s house and watch it,” said Woods.
What about a potential Rose Bowl berth?
“I’ll be there. I’ll be going to the Rose Bowl.”
• • •
3. OH, RICKIE, YOU’RE SO FINE: What a difference a day can make, and that was a good thing for Rickie Fowler.
Fowler was 4 over through the first three holes of this tournament, sitting in dead last. He’d work his way back to 1 under behind five birdies, only to double-bogey the par-3 15th and bogey the 18th for a 1-over 73.
But an eagle at the par-5 2nd hole, three consecutive birdies on Nos. 9 through 11 and a nice finishing birdie at No. 18 on Friday catapulted the California native back into the tournament, sitting at 4 under overall and setting up a date with Tiger Woods on Saturday.
Fowler’s two rounds are indicative of the up-and-down season that saw him pick up his first PGA Tour victory, but saw him finish no better than T-23 – including a missed cut at the PGA Championship – since his T-5 at the Colonial in May.
• • •
4. TRIPLE TROUBLE: While the scoring at Sherwood was much better on Friday, there were still a handful of rough moments for some of the world’s best, including two 2012 major winners.
Webb Simpson, who had flirted with the lead and was at 5 under at one point, triple-bogeyed in the par-4 18th and fell all the way back to 1 under behind a 1-over 73. Simpson had four birdies on his round.
But he wasn’t alone. Zach Johnson had battled back from his 2-over 74 on Thursday with five birdies through 12 holes, only to be undone by a triple-bogey 8 at the par-5 16th to send him back to even on the tournament.
And then there was Bubba Watson, who tripled the par-4 4th hole and then added bogeys at two of the course’s easiest holes Nos. 12 and 13.
Oh, and then there was Jason Day that had two double-bogeys on the day, both coming on the back nine at the par-5 13th and par-3 15th.
• • •
5. SHORT SHOTS: The field fired a collective 34 under on Friday compared to only 12 under on Thursday. . . . Only three players are over par after two rounds, with Ian Poulter and Bubba Watson at 1 over and Jason Day at 2 over. . . . Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson and Jason Dufner were the only two to complete the second round bogey-free on the day. . . . A day after the par-5 2nd seemed to gobble up strokes, it played at 9 under on Friday, with four of the top five players on the leaderboard at least picking up birdie.