AKRON, OHIO—Other guys would be satisfied just to be here, playing in an exclusive tournament after having missed nearly three months to an injury. To that, Tiger Woods said, “I’m not other guys.”
He is not in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational for exhibition purposes. Even though he showed on Friday that his putting stroke still is spotty and even though he shot 1-over par 71 in his second round back after the injury hiatus, he insisted he still is shooting for the trophy.
“Why show up at a tournament if you’re not there to win? There’s no reason to come,” Woods said after his round in the morning, when he was tied for 36th and 7 strokes behind the leaders.
The thing is, Woods has not won a tournament since 2009. And given his repeated starts and stops because of a personal scandal and his knee and Achilles injuries, combined with the development of good young players, Woods still has to prove that he again can be a cut ahead of all those other guys on tour.
“I never write Tiger off. I mean, he has proved almost every critic wrong every time. If they say he can’t do it, he does it,” said Adam Scott, who shot par 70 Friday with Woods’ former caddie Steve Williams on his bag. “What we saw from 1999 onwards, for seven or nine years, it’s hard to believe that it’ll happen again. But he’s the same guy. He can do it. For guys who didn’t see it, it’s hard to explain how good he really was playing, especially in the early 2000s.”
Woods repeated on Friday that he is excited and encouraged by the way he is hitting the ball, while swinging easier than he used to. Also, when he was asked how it feels to be pain-free, he said, “You have no idea.”
British Open champion and Woods friend Darren Clarke, who played with Woods for a second consecutive day, said, “He’s playing a lot better again, an awful lot better. It’s good to see.”
What he will have to overcome is the fits and starts with his Scotty Cameron putter. He did sink some memorable putts in the second round of this small-field, no-cut event. Woods sank a solid five-footer for birdie on No. 17 (his eighth hole of the day). He drained a 21-footer for birdie on No. 7 (after a double bogey out of a bunker on the previous hole). But for him to win tournaments again, he must avoid what he did on No. 14, when he missed a two-footer for par.
Instead of shouting or cursing, he just took a short walk on the green to collect his thoughts. He nearly repeated the miss on No. 8, as his short putt rolled completely around the hole, seemed to bounce out, then fell in.
“Today was not very good,” he said of his putting. “The path wasn’t very good going back. It was underneath the path and it was under the plane, and it was just not very good.”
That was technical talk. He put it more bluntly later, when he said, “Got to go work on that a little bit.” Woods always has feasted on hard work and positive self-talk. So he also said, “I didn’t make as many putts today, but I’m close to putting it together.”
Whether he can be as dominant as he was 10 years ago is doubtful. Scott pointed out that improved technology has leveled the playing field. There are also more talented, aggressive young players, such as Rickie Fowler, who shot 64 Friday to tie Scott and Ryan Moore for the early lead at 8 under.
“This is my opportunity now,” Scott said. “Until someone is that much better, then it’s wide open, really. That’s what I feel like. This is an opportunity for everyone.”