ST. LOUIS – The masses that have lined the gallery ropes 10 and 12 deep at times this week at Bellerive Country Club got their greatest wish early Saturday: Tiger Woods played well enough to book two more rounds on the weekend.
Woods, 42, will have considerable work to do as he chases his 15th major title at the 100th PGA Championship, but the solid 4-under 66 that he completed early Saturday morning (he had 11 holes to play) pushed him to 4-under 136 through 36 holes, six shots behind leader Gary Woodland. In other words, at least he’s somewhere in the arena. An early birdie in his second round pushed him to -5. You can see his updated scorecard right here.
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There was lunch, maybe a short rest, and then Woods planned to get back out Saturday afternoon and “shoot a low one.”
“Guys are making birdie from everywhere,” Woods said, “so it's going to be a little different this afternoon. I just have to make birdies. This golf course is stacked right now and everyone is bunched.”
A late birdie at the par-5 17th hole, where Woods two-putted from 33 feet, snuck him just inside the top 20, into a tie for 19th. It’s the second consecutive major in which Woods at least is giving himself a look on the weekend at trying to collect that 15th major, his last one coming a full decade ago at the 2008 U.S. Open.
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Mother Nature stepped into his path on Friday afternoon with some vibrant rainstorms, just when Woods really seemed to be finding a great rhythm. He was 3-under through seven holes and standing in the fairway at the par-5 eighth when play was suspended. He returned first thing Saturday to hit a pitch from 69 yards to six feet, which he converted for birdie to get to 4-under on his round.
Watch below: Tiger and Rory's best shots from Saturday morning
His momentum would be slowed, however, by two key missed putts on the 10th and 12th holes, the first from seven feet and the second from eight. (In between, he’d notched a fifth birdie at the short par-4 11th.) The putts he missed are the type that Woods would knock down in his prime, assuring that he always kept momentum on his side. That’s been the most troubling aspect of his comeback, getting some of the little things done that champions do to keep on moving forward. At last month’s Open Championship at Carnoustie, Woods even seized the Sunday lead with eight holes to play, only to fade by making a sloppy green side double, followed by a bogey. Francesco Molinari zoomed on past him.
Bigger picture, and on a highly positive note, this all is a bonus for Woods, who 11 months ago was only able to hit 60-yard wedge shots and questioned whether he’d ever play again. At 42, with 79 victories to his name, he has shown enough game to show those huge galleries slowly moving across Bellerive with him that he is not done winning. This tie for sixth at the Open Championship marked his fourth result this season of T-6 or better.
Asked for a word to describe his journey thus far in 2018, Woods chose “blessed.”
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After lunch and a quick wardrobe change at Bellerive, Woods went back to work on the practice tee shortly before noon ahead of a third-round tee time alongside two of his former Ryder Cup teammates, Webb Simpson and Stewart Cink. The Ryder Cup appears to be another bonus sitting on Woods’ plate these days. Barring a victory he won’t climb into the top eight automatic qualifiers that will secure spots on Sunday (he trails Simpson, who holds down the last automatic qualifying spot, by 1,951 points), but Woods very much is on the radar of U.S. captain Jim Furyk and his assistants.
Earlier in the week, Woods was asked to view the Ryder Cup situation through Furyk’s eyes: Had Woods already done enough to warrant one of Furyk’s four captain’s selections?
“I don't know, we'll see,” Woods said. “I’ve gone from zero (in Ryder Cup points) to basically 20th in seven months. As I said last week, I'm trending. So that's all I'm going to say."
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Woods has endured four back surgeries. He hasn’t won a major in 10 years and hasn’t won a PGA Tour event in five. Still, European captain Thomas Bjorn, a longtime friend of his, considers Woods to carry an intimidating aura. Does Woods believe he still is an intimidating opponent? He flashed that devilish smile.
“I like my chances in match play,” he said.
But first, to the delight of what will be two large and appreciative weekend galleries, some work at Bellerive remained. Six shots back, with plenty of possibilities.
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