Tiger Woods put his name atop the leaderboard on Friday in the second round of the Tour Championship in Atlanta but the world’s No. 1 player appeared to have a way of finding trouble at each turn and by the time he’d bogeyed the eighth green — the first time he’d gone backwards in 30 holes on Friday — he was six shots off the lead and struggling to keep his head.
Woods, after all, made his way into the twilight zone at the Ryder Cup earlier this month, when he and Europe’s Graeme McDowell threw away a comfortable five-point lead over one half-hour stretch on the closing day with a losing performance in a play-off that saw both players fall on their backsides.
“Just go with the game plan and play my game and make them putts and if they miss, that’s okay,” said Woods of the Ryder Cup. “I wasn’t trying to win that golf tournament. I was trying to get my points up and see what I could do.”
Making a choice to publicly say he believed he had been guilty of bad behaviour at the time was something he now regrets, but he admitted that keeping it to himself was possibly a mistake. “I haven’t ever said that in my life,” he told a small group of reporters at East Lake. “It was a little bit of playing basketball, trying to not admit you did something wrong when everyone else knows you did it. “But I got called out by the guys, so I knew I did it.”
Woods’ play looked tinged with the approach he took at the Ryder Cup, when his putting was basically non-existent. Instead of hitting sliced approaches, Woods was seen darting down the fairway on wedges, heavily slicing it and even taking an eight at the 15th hole, where he misjudged the bounce on a three-iron after a recovery shot and found water.
McDowell also appears to have used the Ryder Cup as a springboard for a more aggressive stance that paid dividends for him when he three-putted from outside 15 feet at the 13th hole to start his run. In his own words, the Frenchman “smacked me” with his three-putt but he rode his break back up the middle of the back nine to take a share of the lead with a birdie at the 17th.
The pair’s contrasting ways of approach and the accuracy of Woods and Rickie Fowler, who carded a two-under-par 69, both reflected what was a very different sort of course set-up on Friday than for Thursday, when the traditional Sunday elimination cut was applied, even though tournament leader Bubba Watson crashed out in the first round and no one could finish lower than six over par.
The media attention on the Tour Championship provided Fowler with a glimpse of the pressure that will be on him going into the next year’s major championships. “It’s going to be really tough,” Fowler said, “but you know I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game going into this year and last year.”
Woods is taking a different approach to the upcoming majors. When asked about his momentum in the buildup to the British Open this summer, which saw him make the cut but flounder at Carnoustie, Woods said he had not worked as hard in the winter as he did in years gone by, and would not undertake what could be a more demanding winter preparation regime next year.
“When I won the Masters in 1997 and 2000, it was a special time,” he said. “I got in my sleep right after the tournament. I would get up at 7:30, 8 a.m. to get at work at the range.
“You don’t necessarily need to get the same level of work every winter,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t take anything off, but there’s no scenario where I would get that mental energy drain.”
Something that has evidently begun.