LOS ANGELES – After dazzling the crowd at Riviera County Club on Thursday with three consecutive birdies in his last three holes to shoot 2-under in the first PGA Tour round in more than 844 days, things looked a bit differently for Tiger WoodsFriday. He shot a 3-over-74 to complete the first two rounds at 1-over. He is still able to make it to the final cut.
Woods would be a remarkable player if he made it to the finals, despite a seven-month layoff since his last competitive round at The Open. Our experts weigh-in on Woodss return to competitive golf.
How did Woods feel on Friday vs. the previous Thursday?
Mark Schlabach:His swing and walking were the same from Thursday to Friday. I thought Fridays play was less enjoyable and he didn’t seem to be interacting with his playing partners. Justin ThomasAnd Rory McIlroyHe did the same as he did a few days earlier. Woods made it a point of interacting with fans. Woods frustration with his putting may have drained him from the adrenaline he felt in the first round. It was amazing to hear Woods admit that he felt nervous and butterflies on Thursday.
Paolo Uggetti: Woods didnt seem to be feeling any worse while walking around Riviera on Friday. However, as the birdies started dropping on the back nine, he seemed a bit slower. Woods missed the fairway on the ninth hole, his last hole of the day. He was the last person to walk up the fairway with his group and took his time with almost every step. Woods said that the turnaround from Thursday through Friday was quick and that he needed lots of ice treatment overnight. He was therefore not surprised that he experienced more discomfort in round 2. He will continue to face the biggest test of his endurance this week and in the future.
How much did Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy help him?
Schlabach: It was the best pairing Woods could have wished for to get his competitive juices back. He seems to enjoy poking JT or Rory when he drives a ball past them. It is not a good thing that a 47-year old player, who has had multiple surgeries on his neck, back, knees, and right leg, can still drive a ball past them.
Uggetti:Evidently, he does. It could be the long time away from the game, or the fact Woods is at an entirely different stage in his career. But it seemed that Woods was more willing to share how much fun he had playing alongside two of his closest friends and Thomass caddie Jim Bones .
Woods stated, It was an incredible pairing to have those two fantastic guys and two great loops in the bag. Bones and Joey [LaCava]It was great fun to go back for ever.
Whats working well for him?
Schlabach: After all of his surgeries I find it incredible that Woods is still hitting the ball more than 300 yards away from the tee. Even those who haven’t had to deal with the same medical issues Woods has, most players in their 40s don’t hit that far. In the second round, he had 364-yard drives at the third and fifteenth holes, respectively, and a 325-yarder at the first.
Woods averaged 301 yards from the tee in the first two rounds. This will close to placing in the top 25 of the field. McIlroy was the longest hitter on tour at 310.5 yards. Thomas averaged 295.8.
Woods ball speed on Friday was in the 170 mph-180 mph range. Woods said that he cant push off the ground to cause explosions because of his surgery on his right leg and foot. He is using a lot more core strength but must be careful because of his fused back.
Woods stated that although there are technical things that work, if you try to step on it and use it as a ground, it doesnt happen anymore. My back is not good if I step on it or use my core too often. I have to be careful about how I do that. Yes, I have been hitting the ball at this speed at home. I dont have the high one as some of these guys, but like the two guys in the group, they can hit the ball and send it. Because of limitations in my back, and my leg, I dont have that.
Uggetti: His driver is still driving very far. Woods is tied for 25th this week in driving distance. He has kept up his pace with his playing partners, who both hit long distances. Woods explained that although his lower body cannot push off the ground as much to get more distance, he can still hit the ball at 180 mph ball speed by using his core. Its also great that Riviera is playing such good golf that the ball is getting a good rollout. This tournament is Woods debut.
What isnt working for him?
Schlabach:After a seven-month layoff you could see that Woods money clubs, his wedges and putter, were probably a bit rusty. It wasnt surprising that his work around and on the greens was poor. Woods didn’t believe his putting deficiencies were caused by technical problems. He was just blocking them and then missing. He said they were terrible putts. Although he didnt hit a lot (11 of 28), its not difficult for anyone to do at Riviera.
Uggetti: Putting. Woods lost nearly two strokes because of his putting on Friday, after gaining two more strokes Thursday. After Fridays round, Woods said that he just missed bad putts throughout the day. It was especially evident on the sixth hole. Woods thought about using a wedge to chip the ball over the bunker in the middle of his green after his tee shot bounced back to the front. Woods then grabbed his putter, and proceeded with a putt in the bunker.
Woods stated, I blocked a lot more putts early. And this was probably the highest score that I could have shot today. You could have shot at least five to six points higher than this.
What is the most realistic outcome of his weekend?
Schlabach: According to ESPN Stats & Information research, its the eighth time Woods will make the cut on the number in a tournament since 2015. His best finish in the seven previous instances was a tie to finish 11th at The Players 2018. Woods wouldnt say it, but his 36th hole isnt so much about where he finishes as how he finishes. Even if hes not in contention on Sunday he can still play the weekend to test the strength of his ankle and right leg. Since Aprils Masters, he hasn’t played 18 holes in an official tournament. This is the type of test he needs in order to continue his comeback.
Uggetti:Woods insists that he only tees the course up to win, but thats not realistic considering hes currently 11 shots behind the leader. Max Homa. It would be remarkable if he could shoot under par in his first four rounds of the season. He is just one over through 36 holes, and barring any injury or withdrawal, he has a shot.