Tiger Woods is within striking distance of the lead at Firestone after a second-round 68.
If Tiger Woods is to win his ninth WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title, he'll need to do it in come-from-behind fashion.
The good news for Woods is he is within striking distance of the lead after following his opening-round 66 with a two-under 68 on Friday at Firestone Country Club. He will enter the weekend six under for the tournament, five back of the 11-under pace set by Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Thomas and Ian Poulter.
On a sweaty afternoon in Akron, Ohio, Woods's ball striking was less-than-ideal for the second consecutive day, but a solid putter and superior course knowledge allowed him to scrap out back-to-back scores in the 60's for just the fifth time this season.
"I'm really putting well, just didn't quite hit the putts hard enough today," Woods said after the round.
The day began inauspiciously, as he pulled a driving iron on the first hole en route to an opening bogey. He'd make up for the dropped shot as quickly as humanly possible—on the very next hole, with a birdie on the par-5 2nd. Two more birdies on the front nine saw him turn in a two-under 33.
He would add a birdie on the par-3 12th, thanks to a beautiful 7-iron that finished within two feet of the cup, but bogeyed 15 after finding a gnarly lie in the left rough.
While his playing partner Jason Day, whom Woods joked with frequently throughout the round, played the final four holes at three under, Tiger made four pars to get in with 68.
A reason for optimism for the 14-time major champion: Woods leads the PGA Tour in third-round scoring average this year. In his last start, two weeks ago at the Open Championship, he fired a memorable five-under 66 on Saturday to vault into contention at Carnoustie. A similar performance tomorrow in Northeast Ohio would do him well.
That Woods is even playing this event is a mini-miracle. He squeaked into this limited field by way of his T-6 finish at the Open Championship, which saw him reach No. 50 in the world rankings, the exact ranking he needed to get an exemption into a tournament that has been so kind to him.
Woods said getting into this event was a goal of his this season, as this will be the last edition of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. This event will be replaced in the four-tournament World Golf Championships rotation by what will be the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in Memphis.
Below is a hole-by-hole recap of Woods's round.
Hole 18, par 4 - Par, -2 for day, -6 for tournament
Another missed opportunity with a scoring iron. Tiger pounded another cut driver into the middle of the fairway and hit an approach that was right on line but a little long, finishing just above a ridge and leaving a slippery putt. It was another early-walk miss, lacking both the correct speed in line. A clean-up tap-in for par for 68.
Hole 17, par 4 - Par, -2 for day, -6 for tournament
Brutal lip out.
Tiger went driving iron into the middle of the fairway, then tugged his approach a bit but it was the right yardage and left a makeable, 20-foot birdie putt. The Golf Channel broadcast showed a wonderful view of the left-to-right putt, and it looked good all the way before snapping right at the end and catching the low lip. He wanted that one.
Hole 16, par 5 - Par, -2 for day, -6 for tournament
Tiger crushed a driver on this 660-yard par 5, and it rolled out so far that he would have had a legitimate chance to go for the green in two had he not found a divot. But his ball was lying in a divot, so his hand was forced into a layup to 86 yards. Woods went with a low spinner from there but flew it a bit too far, finishing about 10 feet past the flag. His birdie effort his a spike mark halfway to the hole and never really had a chance.
The 16th at Firestone isn't a surefire birdie opportunity like most par 5s on the PGA Tour, so 5 isn't a killer score, but Tiger had just a flip wedge in. He'd like that one back. That could be his last good birdie look of the day.
Hole 15, par 3 - Par, -2 for day, -6 for tournament
The 225-yard 15th is playing as the toughest hole at Firestone today—Tiger's playing partner Jason Day made the first birdie all day on the hole—so par is a good score, and that's what Tiger made. A cut 5-iron with a helping breeze to about 30 feet, then a putt that hit a few bumps and missed on the high side. Nothing much to see here. Onto the final stretch.
Hole 14, par 4 - Bogey, -2 for day, -6 for tournament
Missing fairways catches up to you eventually, and it finally happened at 14 to Tiger. He went driver again and again failed to cut it, finding thick rough and a poor lie down the left side. His approach missed the green to the right and drew an ultra-awkward lie; Tiger rehearsed different stances and shot types for about two minutes before settling on a punch standing just above a bunker. It bounded through the green onto the fringe, and his chip for par missed by about a foot.
That's his first bogey since 1, and it drops him to five pack of Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Thomas.
Hole 13, par 4 - Par, -3 for day, -7 for tournament
Tiger went with the big stick off the tee but didn't cut it as much as he'd like. He found some thick stuff left of the fairway and could only muscle a punch 6-iron to about a foot short of the green. He opted to go with putter from there and his lag was absolutely splendid, leaving a tap-in par to keep the momentum firmly in tact.
Hole 12, par 3 - Birdie, -3 for day, -7 for tournament
The par train ends at five straight thanks to an absolutely perfect draw 7-iron into the 181-yard par 3. I mean, this one was just perfect from the moment he struck it. It finished just one foot and 10 inches from the hole, the closest anyone's been on 12 all week. Tap-in birdie—the best kind.
Tiger's now seven under for the tournament, just four back of the lead and all the way up to T-6.
Hole 11, par 4 - Par, -2 for day, -6 for tournament
Another stress-free par, but another missed opportunity with a scoring club from the middle of the fairway. Tiger went with 3-wood off the tee then hit a towering 9-iron to 19 feet above a front pin. That left a downhill, left to right birdie putt that was low the entire way...early walk and everything. A tap-in par.
Hole 10, par 4 - Par, -2 for day, -6 for tournament
A bit of a missed opportunity there with a wedge in hand after a perfect 3-wood off the tee. Tiger tried to carry his wedge all the way past a back pin, but it landed about a foot too far and stuck in dense rough just over the green. A touch of class from there with a super-delicate chip that couldn't have "flown" more than three feet in the air, and it trickled to about two feet. No issues from there.
Another par and he hasn't dropped a shot since the 1st, but that was an attack hole and he was forced to play defense. Not ideal.
Hole 9, par 4 - Par, -2 for day, -6 for tournament
The 9th is the longest par 4 on the front nine at 500+ yards, but Tiger turned it into a driver-wedge hole thanks to an obliterated drive 352 yards right down the center. His pitching wedge was right on line but failed to get all the way to a back pin, finishing 27 feet short. The birdie effort never had enough juice, but he tapped in for par and a two-under 33 on the opening nine.
Hole 8, par 4 - Par, -2 for day, -6 for tournament
We have our first foul ball of the day, this one a block-fade with the driver that finished miles right. Woods hit a screaming punch under the trees that finished just past a greenside bunker, leaving a relatively straightforward pitch with plenty of green to work with. He executed it perfectly, rolling it down a hill to three feet and centering the par putt.
A momentum saver for sure, but he'll want to start making some birdies to creep up that leaderboard.
Hole 7, par 3 - Par, -2 for day, -6 for tournament
A ho-hum par on the 200-plus yard par 3. He hit a baby draw long iron that finished about 30 feet short and left of the flag, then routinely two-putted.
Hole 6, par 4 - Par, -2 for day, -6 for tournament
A bit of a tug with a 3-wood off the tee, but it was fortunate to skirt through two trees and find a decent lie in the left rough. That left a fine angle to a right pin on this dogleg right, and his 9-iron was right on line but a bit past the pin. A speedy downhill birdie effort was right in the jar but just a bit short, leading to a tap-in par.
Hole 5, par 3 - Birdie, -2 for day, -6 for tournament
You know you're playing well when you make birdies after hating your tee shot on a par 3. Tiger went with a hard 7-iron on this 202 yard hole and immediately disliked the swing he made, pulling the ball well left of his target while trying to hit a draw. But the ball caught the very left edge of the green and finished agbout 12 feet from the hole, then he knocked in his third birdie of the day to get to two under for the round.
Tiger spoke yesterday about feeling like he didn't play well, but still grinding out a score. His ballstriking hasn't been super precise today, but he's rolling the ball extremely well with that mallet putter. Look out if he figures out the ball striking.
Hole 4, par 4 - Par, -1 for day, -5 for tournament
Woods went with driver on the 460ish-yard par 4 and found the right rought, but he got a fortunate bounce off a sprinkler head and found a not-terrible lie. From there he was able to muscle a wedge onto the left side of the green, about 40 feet away, then two putted for par. Knocked in a four-footer that had some left to right break in it, right in the center. Good stroke.
Hole 3, par 4 - Birdie, -1 for day, -5 for tournament
That's how you bounce back from an opening bogey.
Woods went with driving iron for the second time today, but unlike the first hole he managed to find the right side of the fairway, leaving a perfect angle from just 122 yards. His wedge was perfect for distance and just right of the flag, finishing seven feet from the pin. He made a confident stroke and knocked in the slight right-to-left birdie effort without incident.
Back into red numbers for the day and back into the top 15. One bogey and two birdies. Pars are overrated. Onward.
Hole 2, par 5 - Birdie, E for day, -4 for tournament
Just what the doctor ordered- a relatively stress-free, bounce-back birdie. Woods hit a baby draw with the driver—a shot he's been reluctant to even try during the comeback, let alone pull off—into the right side of the fairway, then hit a long iron from 240 onto the left side of the green. His eagle effort from 45 feet rolled out to three feet past the hole, but he brushed in the birdie right in the center.
Back to even for the day, and hopefully those couple good swings will wash out the taste of the disappointing start.
Hole 1, par 4 - Bogey, +1 for day, -3 for tournament
Not the ho-hum start that we saw yesterday. Tiger went with driving iron for the second straight day at the 1st and, like yesterday, missed left again. He got a bit of an unlucky break as his ball finished just right of fairway bunker, forcing him to take an awkward stance on his toes and virtually eliminating and chance of reaching the green. He hit a punch wedge to about 50 yards short of the green then played a nice pitch to just over eight feet, but his par effort was low and left the entire way. An ugly putt.
A less-than-ideal start, but a chance to make it up quickly at the par-5 2nd.