DULUTH, Ga., Aug. 17 - This was better entertainment than we could have hoped for. Tiger Woods, struggling with his golf game, slogging through a slump that grips even the greatest of golfers, and then patching things up just enough to stay alive in the 83rd PGA Championship. Raise your hands if you would have rather seen this than Woods marching down the 18th on Sunday with a commanding lead in another major.
InsertArt(1131585)WOODS LOOKED LIKE toast Friday. Then he dropped two bombs, a 40-footer on 15 and a 30-footer on 16, and he was back to even and alive.
Even Woods thought it was special. “It’s a little bit tougher knowing your game is not where you want it,” when asked to compare Friday and coming down the stretch in the lead at a major and protecting a lead.
Enough hosannas have been raised to Woods for winning four consecutive majors over 2000-2001. He should get more applause because he did something that seemed so ordinary, almost beneath him in this tournament. He made the cut. He is modestly tied for 57th in this tournament.
There are some other terrific stories here. Shingo Katayama, the Japanese Cowboy, is tied for the lead at 9-under with 34-year-old David Toms, a good golfer who usually escapes the spotlight at the majors. Phil Mickelson, who is searching for his first major, is right there at 8-under with Bob Estes, tied for third.
But Woods, just by making the cut, stole the show … again.
What was remarkable was Woods did it down the stretch where the Atlanta Athletic Club golf course can be merciless. There was water to land in; long par 4 holes; greens in miserable shape from a day of heat and spikes.
So far in the tournament, the 15th hole rated the second hardest, the 16th eighth hardest, the 17th the fifth hardest, the 18th the toughest of all holes. Woods finished birdie, birdie, par, par.
Players at 1-over made the cut, so Woods, at even-par, had some wiggle room. But the fact he saved himself on the toughest part of the course was a nice achievement. It seemed routine, but it was pressure-packed. Hit the green and two-putt to make the cut.
For a long while Friday, it looked like Woods wouldn’t make cut. On the 13th his par-putt lipped out and he was 2-over and not playing well … by his standards. On the way past his upright bag he jammed his putter into the bottom of the sack with such disgust it should have punched a hole in the leather at the bottom.
He hit a “bad” tee shot to start the 14th, but saved par. His timid attempt at a birdie rolled out.
Then, on the 15th, Woods finally asked what it would take to make the cut. He was told “even.”
He should have asked sooner.
Facing elimination, Woods putted from the fringe and hit the ball so hard it stopped only because it found the bottom of the cup. Woods blamed that one on “lady luck.” He even said he was “embarrassed” by making the shot, the way you and I would be embarrassed by hitting the backboard from the top of the key and the ball caroming into the hoop.
On the 15th Woods holed a 35-footer to get to even. The CBS and its flock of advertisers poured a round of stiff drinks that Woods survived to the weekend and saved their ratings.
Indeed, if Tiger Woods misses a cut in a tournament, especially at a major, is it reasonable to assume cows will fly the following day? It is, if you look at this kid’s record.
He’s gone 20 majors in a row without missing a cut. The last cut he missed was 1996 at The Masters when he was an amateur.
Woods hasn’t missed a cut in 74 tournaments, all the way back to 1997. He almost dropped out on a Friday in a tournament at San Diego in 1998, but said he saved himself with three birdies in the last five holes.
Woods is still in a slump, but this makes it more interesting. There will be this sense of drama that he will light a fuse and hook his game to a comet again. If he does, great. If he doesn’t, Phil Mickelson or Toms or Katayama will provide some drama. We’ll see.
Woods’ game isn’t up to the standards of the rest of the superb field … after two rounds. He’s off, but he’s still packing the grandstands. If his roll from the end of the round continues, it will be a tantalizing final two days with David Duval in position tied for fifth with five others, Mickelson being his aggressive self tied for third, and Tiger lurking.
Ray Glier is a freelance writer from Atlanta and a frequent contributor to NBCSports.com.
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