KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — There were some who actually asked for the wind to blow at the 94th PGA Championship, hoping that the breeze would dry out the Ocean Course and allow for the course, soft from early-week rain, to play firmer and faster.
The wind came on Friday. Instead of playing firmer and faster, Kiawah Island’s gem became brutally unforgiving, sending wayward balls flying and scores soaring.
A few who have been there before didn’t seem to mind. Vijay Singh, threatening to defy Father Time once again, had the best second round by two shots, a 3-under-par 69 that left him in a tie for the lead at 4 under. He’s joined there by first-round leader Carl Pettersson (74) and Tiger Woods, who three-putted his final hole but still shot 71. Ian Poulter also bogeyed the 18th, also shot 71, and is a shot back in fourth.
“It was a tough, tough day,’’ Woods said. “”I thought going out, anything even par or better was going to be a good score. That was my goal. So I went out today and accomplished that.”
It’s the second time this year that Woods has a share of the 36-hole lead at a major championship. He was tied for the lead at the US Open, then shot 75-73 on the weekend and tied for 21st. It marked only the second time that Woods failed to win after holding at least a share of the lead at a major; he had been 8-for-9 until then.
Woods has broken par now in five of his eight weekday rounds at majors this year, so starting 69-71 isn’t unique. But he’ll be looking for his first under-par round on the weekend in a major in 2012, and trying to win his first major since the 2008 US Open. He’s been close, contending at the US Open for two days in June, then tying for third at the British Open last month.
“The last couple of majors, hey, I’m right there with a chance, and I like that,” Woods said. “I’m playing to where I’m going to give myself chances in major championships.”
With the wind down and the Ocean Course lying defenseless for much of Thursday, it took on the role of a paper tiger and paved the way for a parade of low first-round scores: 24 players under 70, 44 under par.
Friday, she grew some teeth, chewed up the paper, spit it out, and got her revenge. And then some.
• There were twice the number of scores in the 90s (two) than in the 60s (one).
• Forty-one players failed to break 80, including some notable names unaccustomed to such futility: Rickie Fowler (80), Hunter Mahan (80), Jason Day (80), Matt Kuchar (82), Nick Watney (82), Jose Maria Olazabal (84), Paul Casey (85), D.A. Points (87).
• The scoring average of 78.11 was the highest in PGA Championship history and nearly five shots higher than Thursday’s 73.33.
• Marc Leishman shot even-par 72, and moved up 64 spots on the leaderboard.
Rumor had it that the Ocean Course could play laughably tough when the wind kicked up. Well, it kicked up, and nobody was laughing.
“This is really, really windy. We had some big winds in Portrush [Northern Ireland] about a month ago, but it wasn’t as strong as this,” said Jamie Donaldson, a European Tour regular who shot 73 and is 2 under, tied with Rory McIlroy (75) for fifth. “This is as strong a wind as you’re going to play in. The balls were oscillating on the green, but weren’t moving.”
World No. 1 Luke Donald was frustrated by the conditions, shooting a 76 to make the cut on the number.
The carnage had a few exceptions, none more impressive than Singh, who had five birdies in his 69. Not that he was counting.
“After a while you don’t really think about your score,” Singh said. “I just kept trying to make my pars on every hole.”
Singh turns 50 in February, and 22 of his 34 PGA Tour victories have come since he turned 40, a tour record. But he hasn’t won since 2008, and has just one top-10 finish in his past 23 majors. That came in his last one, at the British Open, when he tied for ninth.
“All of a sudden it clicked. I’ve been playing well for a while,” said Singh, who will be paired with Woods in the final group Saturday. “So far it’s been unbelievable.”
Pettersson, who started on 10, was in the lead teeing off, gave it up with two early bogeys, then got it back with birdies on Nos. 16, 1, and 3. But three straight bogeys, beginning with No. 6, cost him the outright lead.
Poulter had a chance to share the lead but bogeyed No. 18. Woods’s three-putt there a few minutes earlier — he does have 23 one-putts through 36 holes — cost him the outright lead.
By then, the wind was still whipping, just like it had from the minute the first groups teed off. Beginning to end, the cross-winds coming hard off the coast told the story from Day 2. One look at Friday’s scores – especially when compared to Thursday — and you knew the world’s best, save only a few, had been pushed around. It’s not something they’re used to. Friday, they had no choice.