TULSA, Okla. — The realist will point out that Tiger Woods had every advantage through the first two rounds of the PGA Championship.
Some of it was made for him by sympathetic tournament organizers and TV executives. Some of it was just plain luck.
By playing his first two rounds in the first flight — Thursday morning and Friday afternoon — Woods got the easiest conditions Southern Hills had to offer. Limping around on a previously shattered leg, Woods played before the scorching Oklahoma heat set in on Thursday, and after the 30 mile-per-hour winds died down to almost nothing between Friday morning and afternoon.
Woods also got a full 24 hours to recover between his rounds. It can’t be a coincidence that 17 of the top 22 golfers atop the leaderboard also played in Woods’ flight.
But the realist can cram it.
Just making the cut — as Woods did on Friday, finishing with a 1-under 69 to reach 3 over for the tournament, one stroke under the cut line — is an incredible accomplishment for someone who nearly died in his car crash 15 months ago, and nearly had his leg amputated. Not to mention Woods, 46, has had a career full of knee and back injuries, and is twice the age of some of his competition this week.
Woods has played in just two tournaments since that crash — this year’s Masters and PGA Championship. He’s now 2 for 2 in making the cut.
“I’ve won tournaments on the cut number,” said an ever-optimistic Woods, who is tied for 53rd and sits 12 shots behind leader Will Zalatoris. “There’s a reason why you fight hard and you’re able to give yourself a chance on the weekend. You just never know when you might get hot.”
It was looking grim for Woods after he double-bogeyed No. 11 Friday to drop to 5-over par. But a string of hot putting and iron play got him back on the right side of the cut line and made CBS executives sigh with relief.
Woods hit a 14-footer for par on No. 12, an 8-footer for birdie on No. 13, a 14½ footer for par on No. 14, a sand shot to 3 feet to save par on No. 15, and an iron from 209 yards to 4 feet on No. 16, leading to the birdie that clinched his spot in the weekend.
“Fortunately enough, I’m able to somehow do it,” Woods said. “I’ve had a great [physical therapy] staff that have put Humpty-Dumpty back together, and we’ll go out there tomorrow, and hopefully tomorrow I can do something like what Bubba [Watson] did today.”
Other observations from Friday’s second round at the PGA Championship:
⋅ Woods hopes to play like Watson, because Watson was scorching hot Friday as he also benefited from the easier conditions. Watson shot a 7-under 63 that included nine birdies, tying the Southern Hills course record for a major championship set by Woods and Raymond Floyd. Watson sits in fourth place at 5-under, four shots behind Zalatoris.
Not only did the weather and rest work in Watson’s favor, but the greens were also slow Friday afternoon because the PGA did not mow them overnight. Zalatoris was caught by TV mics calling the greens “Velcro.”
“Slower greens obviously helps,” Watson said. “It slows down the chips and everything, all the shots that you’re hitting in there. When that wind died down, you just felt like you had a chance to score.”
⋅ It’s a little ridiculous that making the cut this weekend was basically decided by a luck of the draw. The participants in the second wave — those who played Thursday afternoon and Friday morning — played a far tougher course both days.
Temperatures were in the 70s Thursday morning, but the heat index reached 95 as the second wave of golfers sweated through their rounds. They then had a quick turnaround Friday morning, and dealt with 30 mile-per-hour winds.
“It was brutal,” said New England native Keegan Bradley, who made the cut at 2 over despite having just 12 hours in between rounds, compared with 24 for Woods and others. “It was hot yesterday. I was really tired after the round. Today the wind, especially my first nine holes, it was blowing hard – like, properly hard. On a course like this, it makes it really difficult.”
Justin Thomas shot consecutive 67s to enter the weekend in third place at 6 under, but his fellow stars in the second wave struggled. Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm are tied for 41st at 2 over, Collin Morikawa finished at the plus-4 cut line, and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and Dustin Johnson missed the cut at 6 over.
They have to be a little ticked about their poor luck.
⋅ One quirk of Southern Hills is that the latest re-design, which lengthened the course to 7,556 yards, put several tee boxes almost literally on top of other greens. The seventh tee box is practically on the fringe of the sixth green. The tee shot on No. 3 is directly in the line of fire of the tee shot on No. 6. The tee shot from 13 goes directly over the 12th green.
It results in a lot of extra standing around for the groups, and rounds that go well past five hours.
“It’s certainly strange,” Bradley said. “It’s definitely like you’re looking around to see whose turn it is. But it hasn’t been that bad.”
⋅ John Daly missed the cut at 8 over after shooting 72-76, but he was an experience unto himself, wearing bright, skull-adorned golf pants and scooting around Southern Hills like the Pope in a golf cart. The PGA of America granted Daly the use of a cart this week because of osteoarthritis in his right knee. He also was spotted playing the slots at a local casino Thursday afternoon after finishing his first round.
⋅ The US Open is coming to Brookline next month, and the buzz in Boston is palpable. ESPN said Thursday’s first-round broadcast averaged 1.5 million viewers, the most in 20 years, and Boston tied with Jacksonville for the fourth-highest TV rating in the country (1.2). Only Las Vegas (1.4), Atlanta (1.3) and Phoenix (1.3) had a higher rating.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.