AKRON, Ohio – On a day when the second round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational produced one number that mattered above all, 61 – as in the score that put this tournament firmly in Tiger Woods’ grasp – let us focus on another number.
As in 5 Things of note from Friday at Firestone Country Club:
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1. DAUNTING TASK AHEAD: Some might consider Chris Wood’s position to be impossible. He thinks it’s valuable.
“This is a big challenge for me. It’s a daunting task, but I’m looking forward to it,” said the 25-year-old Englishman, who’ll play alongside Keegan Bradley in the final pairing of Saturday’s third round.
And, of course, Woods will be there, too. In possession of a seven-stroke cushion.
Now there’s more than an “s” separating the Englishman and the Legend – specifically, 14 major championships, 78 PGA Tour wins and tens of millions of dollars in prize money – but that doesn’t mean the youngster isn’t looking forward to it. He never had a chance to meet one of his heroes, the late Seve Ballesteros, so being paired with another, Woods, is something he’ll cherish.
“I’ve never been (paired) with him. He’s up there as high as you can get in my book, as far as what he’s achieved,” Wood said of Woods. “He’s been my golfing hero since I was 10.”
Though he bogeyed the par-4 18th to shoot 68, Wood matched Bradley, who had also shot 68 earlier in the day, at 6 under. That’s a score that seemed prepared to challenge for the 36-hole lead, at least until Woods did his thing. But Wood is not ready to call this thing over.
He said he’s walking to the first tee thinking that he’s in the hunt, formidable as it might be.
“Yeah, because I’m tied for second. I’m ahead of 70 other guys,” said Wood, after his four-birdie, two-bogey round. “When he was in his peak, in 2000, in this situation, everyone would say they’re playing for second, but it will be a new experience for me.”
Wood is playing in just his fourth World Golf Championships event. He has won just once on the European Tour, and his world ranking (71st) is 70 spots below the top-ranked Woods. But somehow, he smiled at the improbable task that has come his way.
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2. ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Bill Haas had broken par just twice in 12 previous rounds at Firestone Country Club. So now that he has done it two straight times this year, things must be quite in sync, yes?
Well, yes . . . and no.
“Pretty solid ball-striking,” Haas said. “Maybe not ideal, but good enough, and just pretty consistent.”
Backing up his opening 67 with a 68, Haas is halfway home at 5-under 135, which is three better than his previous best through 36 holes in this World Golf Championship. The secret, said Haas, hasn’t been his fairways (18 of 28) and greens (24 of 36) accuracy as much as it has been his misses.
“It seems like my missed greens were in places where it was a doable up-and-down,” he said.
Having finished no better than T-19 in three previous visits to this tournament, Haas clearly is aiming much higher, though he knows he’s got his work cut out. “Hopefully, this weekend if my ballstriking is a little bit better, I feel really good with the putter.”
Haas earned his fifth PGA Tour win in early July at the AT&T National, but don’t suggest that he could be riding some momentum. He has had two off weeks, and one of his two starts has been a missed cut.
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3. SHORT-TERM MEMORY: Go ahead, ask. He expects it. In fact, “I expected more of it when I got here,” Jim Furyk said.
But the thing is, he prides himself on his ability to get over heartache on the golf course, so he’s not dwelling on the double bogey at the 72nd hole that coughed up last year’s Bridgestone Invitational to Keegan Bradley.
Ahead by one going into the final hole, Furyk’s double allowed Bradley to win by one. Yes, it stung, but he lets such anguish linger “a week or two,” Furyk said.
“Guys who dwell on that sort of thing and don’t get over that sort of thing end up kind of hitting roadblocks in their careers. That’s never been an issue with me.”
Furyk, who has opened 67-69 to get to 4 under, revealed that he was offended by one story he read about last year’s collapse, but he wouldn’t offer any details. “It’s not worth talking about,” he said.
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4. TWO SIDES TO THE STORY: Given that two Web.com Tour players have shot 59 this year and Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley have fired 60s this year, Tiger Woods was asked if shooting 59 has become easier and will become more common.
Clearly, Woods conceded that equipment has enhanced scoring opportunities – “We are hitting it farther and the clubs are more forgiving.” But he suggested it’s more difficult on another front.
“Every golf course we go to is longer, and they’re narrowing it up,” he said. “Before, it was the 260 mark, and now it’s near the 300 mark (when the fairways get tight).”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Brett Rumford, winner of back-to-back tournaments on the European Tour earlier this year, has struggled mightily. His only three birdies have been at Nos. 1 and 2; everywhere else he’s 13 over. . . . Quietly, which is the only way he does things, John Merrick posted the day’s best round – at least for the mortals. Though he bogeyed the 18th, Merrick had a 4-under 66 that enabled him to leapfrog 30 players and settle in at T-11, 2 under for 36 holes. . . . Webb Simpson, the first-round leader, birdied his third hole to get to 7 under, but he bogeyed six of the next 15 holes, shot 75, and tumbled into a share of 16th. . . . The par-4 first hole ranked toughest, with a field average of 4.356. Only seven birdies were recorded there, one by Woods. . . . Adam Scott recovered from an opening 73 to shoot 68, moving from T-54 to T-25. . . . With the forecast calling for heavy overnight rain that would stretch into Saturday morning, officials opted to push back tee times. Round 3 will begin at 11:10 a.m., with threesomes going off both tees. That puts the lead group of Tiger Woods, Chris Wood and Keegan Bradley off No. 1 at 1:10 p.m.