AKRON, Ohio – Firestone Country Club isn’t nearly as boring a layout as many have suggested, but its par-5 16th hole has earned its reputation as a bit of a bummer.
Playing 656 yards in Round 2 of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Tiger Woods hammered a 384-yard drive into the first cut and never considered going for the green in two. It’s a layup for pretty much everyone on Tour without much strategy involved. Put a tee shot out there, hit a mid-iron, hit a wedge and try to make a birdie putt.
Woods put himself in perfect position on his second shot, leaving an 85-yard wedge into the green. He left a disappointing 13.5 feet to the cup and missed the birdie try.
That, right there, tells the story of Woods’ season to date. He continues to put himself in great spots. He just hasn’t been able to finish the deal yet on Sunday.
He’s in good shape again this week after a 2-under 68 Friday and currently sits T-10 and five shots off the lead at 6 under. And so far this year he’s saved his best stuff for moving day.
“I felt better with my game than I did yesterday, for sure,” Woods said. “I just didn’t hit the putts hard enough, but if I did, I would have easily shot 4, 5 under par.”
Woods missed short on the bulk of his birdie tries Friday, and he matched his Round 1 numbers with 7 of 14 fairways in regulation and 13 of 18 greens. He hit driver eight times and for all the talk of his wild play off the tee in 2018, he’s in the middle of the pack at T-37 so far this week in driving accuracy.
The obvious question is whether or not he’d be better off hitting 3-wood instead of driver on several holes, but Team Tiger has a straightforward answer that’s hard to argue with.
“He’s gonna play the course how he’s always played it,” caddie Joe LaCava said. “Winning eight times, he’s not gonna change it now. That’s how he’s gonna play the golf course.”
And it’s not like the strategy isn’t giving him good looks. He’s sixth in the field this week in proximity to the hole on approach shots at 24.5 feet and is mostly avoiding mistakes, with just three bogeys over 36 holes.
It looked like more of a grind on Friday, probably in part due to rising temperatures and a bright sun in the 2:10 p.m. ET pairing. He’ll get going a little earlier Saturday, teeing off at 1:05 p.m. alongside Marc Leishman, and he’ll need his best ballstriking day thus far to have a good shot come Sunday.
“I’ve never seen it like this year at Firestone,” Woods said of the low scoring. “In order to make a move out here, we’re going to have to shoot low ones because pretty much everyone’s going to shoot a good score, so hopefully tomorrow I can do that.”
There are indeed 45 players under par, but we haven’t reached John Deere status – World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is T-46 at even par and Jordan Spieth is 3 over for the week.
As much as Friday felt like a grind for Woods, he still made it look easy at times. There was the high, tight draw into the par-3 12th for an easy tap-in birdie. And there was what looked like his smoothest swing of the day at No. 3, a 125-yard wedge with perfect tempo and easy pace that had to feel like butter at impact.
Woods made that 7-footer for birdie at three, getting back under par after an opening bogey that dropped him to eight shots off the lead. From there he fought his way back as he has all season, all of his career, really, to get a look at leaders Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Thomas going into Saturday.
An even-par 72 at the Masters is Woods’ worst Round 3 score of the year, and he’s shot 68 or better in five starts since, not counting the missed cut at the U.S. Open.
His most memorable rounds of the year have all come Saturday — The 4-under 67 to get within one of the lead at Valspar, the electric 65 at TPC Sawgrass, and the 66 at Carnoustie which helped him finish T-6 and get to Akron in the first place.
We haven’t seen anything resembling his best stuff yet, but the bottom line is that he’s in position yet again. Playing one of his favorite courses on Tour. Entering his favorite day of the week.
The fans will be out in full force as Firestone prepares for its final weekend hosting the WGC-Bridgestone Invite.
Don’t be surprised if Woods makes it a memorable one.