Tiger Woods shot another 61 at the par-70 Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, on Friday. The first one was back in 2000. This one gave him a seemingly insurmountable lead of seven shots over Keegan Bradley and England’s, Chris Wood. Tiger is at 13-under and they are at 6.
This round of 9-under was so dominant, it sucked the air out of the Golf Channel’s broadcast. Compared to Tiger, there was nothing else going on. And it was a helluva show, a virtuoso display of the best golfer in the world’s best talents. The top-10 players on the leaderboard at the end of the day could do no better that 2-under and then only four of them. The rest were 1-under or Even.
Building on his first round, 4-under, 66, Tiger didn’t see this coming either:
The way I hit it on the range I thought that realistically I was going to shoot something in the high to mid 60s. I thought that was going to be good, just get to 7- or 8-under par. I thought that was going to be — just basically double what I had yesterday. I thought that was going to be a good number to shoot. I thought that would be either tied for the lead if not leading by the end of the day, and that was the mindset going out.
Next thing you know, I’m already there [4-under] through three holes. So okay, maybe we can take advantage of it and let’s try and get a few more out of here. Next thing you know, I get on a run there after the turn, and lo and behold, the round dynamics totally changed. They went from let’s try and shoot something like 7‑ or 8‑under par, and next thing you know I’m at 9‑under par through 13.
One of the best parts about being a master of the game is that not much scares you anymore, not that anything ever did in his case. So when he started, birdie, eagle, birdie, not only did it not come as a surprise, he knew he was good enough to have done it; this was no fluke:
You know, the funny thing is I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all about being there [with a chance to shoot 59]. The good news is I have shot it before. I shot it at home back in ’97, and to do that at the time at my course, you had to be 13 deep to do it. I was only 9 today at that point.
I’ve been 10-, 11-under par before out here, so to be 9 is nothing that was uncomfortable or unusual. If I had to get to 13, it would be a different story; that’s a lot. But just a couple more coming in, I had two opportunities to make a couple putts there at 15 and 17, so it certainly was an opportunity, but when you’re playing a par‑70, it’s certainly a lot easier.
But still, 9‑under through 13 is pretty good.
It is hard to say what was more impressive, his pinpoint irons that gave him good and short looks at birdie, or the long par-putt saves he made when he didn’t:
I felt like I putted well today. I hit a lot of good putts yesterday. I don’t think I missed a putt inside 10, 12 feet yesterday. And today was like that [only dramatically better; he made so many long par-savers it became laughable].
You know, that’s kind of how I felt like I’ve been putting is I’ve hit all my lines. It’s just a matter of getting the speed, and I’m starting the ball on my spots. Just got to keep working on the speed, and my speed has been really good the last two days.
Stated another way, the ball will only follow the line you see on the green if you hit at a speed that allows it to stay on that line. It’s a two-part mystery; see the line, feel the speed.
And he was just as pleased with his iron play. Just listen to the nuance he describes in this one approach shot to the 10th:
Well, I hit a lot of good iron shots today (smiling). I hit a sweet one, people think it’s probably pretty easy because I had a wedge in there, but 10 was a pretty sweet little shot, to take the spin off of it and draw it in there and skip it up, land on the crest and make sure it’s not going to hop over the back, but then again, if you hit it with cut spin it’s coming back down the hill. I took all that out of play. That’s always nice when you pull off stuff like that.
When he got to the par-5 16th, it was a pivotal point in his pursuit of 59. The hole is some 667 yards with a pond in front of the green. If you can hit your tee shot long enough to get over the ledge some 280 or so yards off the tee, it will run forever down the hill to set up a long 3-wood into the green. Back in the day, nobody went for this thing in two, but now it’s routinely possible…if the conditions are right.
After walloping his drive 378 yards into the first cut on the left side of the fairway, eagle seemed possible or at least a two-putt birdie. So why didn’t he go for it?
Well, the number was good to go. I could have easily gotten there, but the problem was I was in the first cut but I was against the grain. If it was downgrain I would have gone, but against the grain, this grass is so thick, it just doesn’t fly out of the first cut, and I just can’t take that chance.
If it was sitting downgrain, I probably would have gone. It was 270, I can easily clear that and knock it over the back, but not with it into the grain.
So he laid it up to take a big number out of the equation and set up a birdie opportunity. This is an example of a player thinking straight in a very exciting situation. And the plan continued to unfold accordingly:
I laid up there and I had a lay-up to a perfect number, but I laid up in a slight depression. And I was on the down side of the depression but also against the grain because of how they cut it. I just can’t take a chance. I’ve got to play long and play safe, which I did.
With only 89 yards to the hole, he hammered what was probably his lob wedge onto the back ledge, but without enough spin to come back down to the hole. Hitting that club hard enough to go that far, he couldn’t afford for it to zip back down the hill and into the pond. Illustrating that even great thinking and a great plan don’t always work out. That’s golf and you move on.
The secret to his round wasn’t the more obvious birdie and eagle putts, it was the seemingly more pedestrian par putts:
Yeah, I always think that it’s probably more important to make those par putts than it is making birdies, keeping cards clean with no dropped shots is always the key. You get so much more — I get more excited when I make key par putts than even birdies. They’re momentum builders.
I had an opportunity to drop a shot there at 6; I don’t [making it from 22 feet]. I stuff it at 7, make birdie, and it just adds to the round. That’s basically a two‑shot swing easily right through there, that little section, and it just turned my round into something really positive on that front nine, when it looked like I was probably going to lose a shot there, and whether I was going to get a shot back on the next three holes on the front nine remained to be seen.
The difference maker in his round probably wasn’t just that he was playing well, it was that he was in control of his game; two different things:
I had a lot of control today from tee to green and obviously the way I putted. I felt I was in total control of my game. Obviously things like that don’t happen every day, and it’s fun when it all comes together and I was able to take advantage of it, especially on a golf course like this. This is not exactly an easy golf course. As you can see, 6-under is in second, so the guys aren’t tearing this apart. And the fact that I was able to shoot what I shot today, I’m very proud of that.
It was interesting to watch his demeanor all day long. He was so deep inside it that there wasn’t any exuberant fist-pumping or Ryder Cup-like exhortations until he got to the 18th green. After slowly chopping his way down the right tree line, he made an incredible 27-foot par putt off the back fringe up against the rough. The crowd went nuts and he was very magnanimous, doffing his hat with some humility and appreciation. But until then, was he aware of this state that he was in?
No, I wasn’t aware of that at all. I was just playing my round, and obviously moments happen. For me when I get excited, I get excited. I think 18 was one of them. It was nice to end the day like that and not drop a shot, and then to post the number I posted, it felt good. And I think that’s what that emotion was.
But most of the day I was just plodding along and trying to put my ball in the right spot and trying to give myself as many birdie looks as I possibly could because I was putting so well, just keep giving myself looks, I’m going to make my share today if I give myself enough looks.
But it didn’t take too long for him to begin hunkering down again. Surely he must be ecstatic over his great round, right?
How about just pleased? I’m very happy I was able to post that. I just kept thinking, you know, whatever lead I had, let’s just keep increasing this lead, and I think it’s at seven now, I believe. So not too bad after two days.
Still have two days and we have some weather coming in, golf in threesomes. So the golf course will be playing slow tomorrow, and we’re going to take our time and go about our business.
You can count on that, I’m sure. It’ll make for some more great theater.