Tiger Woods makes late push, will play the weekend at Torrey Pines
SAN DIEGO - Like many a Friday in the lovely and vicious history of golf, this one teemed with a game buried deep within the game: Would this one player who finished tied for 84th on Thursday make the cut?
The player happened to be Tiger Woods, and the answer kept vacillating through his closing holes on the front nine of the Torrey Pines North Course in the Farmers Insurance Open - maybe, maybe not, yes, no, wait, maybe - until finally he turned up on the green at the par-5 No. 9, one shot beneath the cutline, with an eagle putt of a distance one might describe as yonder.
Golf intellectuals called it 90 feet. It had a swale in it.
For Woods's hike from the hole back to the ball, he might have carried a canteen. "I took a second look at it from the middle part of the putt because I saw it went back uphill at the end," he said.
Get that thing within non-harrowing distance, and Woods, at even par, could birdie the hole, do a pull-up to get his chin just above the cutline of 1 under par, make his first PGA Tour cut since August 2015 and play the weekend by the Pacific. Otherwise, well . . .
It didn't qualify as a life-changing road fork, but it did rid a Friday afternoon of any possible tedium.
So, after Woods rolled that thing over the swale and through the shadows and slightly leftward until it turned up just a little tap from home and a closing, cut-making birdie, he said, "It was a grind," because it had been. Using a sublime short game to wring a 71 from a day in which the fairways yawned at his presence - he hit three of 14 - Woods took up a place among a 13-strong horde clinging, at 1-under 143, to La Jolla weekend plans.
The usual persnickety cut had called for the top 70 and ties, and the best 21st-century golfer joined the sport's weekly dangle from the board's bottom rung, alongside various names such as Bud Cauley and Kevin Tway and Camilo Villegas and Brandt Snedeker and Anirban Lahiri, in a merry, mass tie for 65th.
Even for a player with a gigantic 14 major titles and an absurd 79 PGA Tour wins, the weekend will come in handy. Woods has not played on the Tour in 12 months. He played two tour rounds in 2017, none in 2016. He used the word "ice" to describe the consistency of the greens and said, in a TV interview: "I haven't seen greens like this in a very long time. It's been years."
He said it all feels different from previous sunny days because back then, he said, "I wasn't fused" - a reference to his vertebrae-fusion surgery in April 2017.
Fused, he summarized: "I grinded around. I chipped and putted well. And I posted a number."
Gaudy scores seemed to fly around everywhere. Jon Rahm, the defending champion, reached 10-under with a 66 atop his opening 68. Leader Ryan Palmer put a 67 atop a 66 to get to 11 under. Jason Day took his 73 from the first day and had a 64. And somewhere in there, Tiger Woods, underdog, having budged upward from No. 656 in the world to No. 647 this January, made the cut. He did so after causing a muddy hill of a day for himself with a double bogey on No. 13, his fourth hole, when he went too wayward (left) in a day full of wayward, took a penalty shot and went over the green after that. He spent the rest of the time scrapping to surmount that.
"I still need more rounds under my belt," he said. "How far certain shots are going, what my swing feels are going to be for certain shots, certain trajectories - those are all things a lot of these guys have already built in. They've been playing. I'm just starting out."
When he got to his closing nine holes, the game within a game was on, and he would need to climb out of a 2-over-par hole. He made his only monster birdie putt of the week here on No. 1. He birdied No. 5 after his chip nibbled at an eagle. He birdied No. 7 after a chip just about dreamy enough to dredge sonnets. It looked good.
It didn't look good, because he chunked a weak opener on the par-3 No. 8, then sent a racing, menacing chip from in front of the green all the way to the back. "Well, that hit concrete," he said. "You know, [playing partner Charley Hoffman] came over to me and said, 'What the hell did that thing hit?' It looked like it hit ice. It skidded."
It ruined everything, until he got to his 18th hole, the par-5, 556-yard No. 9, and sent the second shot to the right side of a vast green. He didn't know enough about the leader board to know how much it could matter. "It was a difficult little putt," he said. When he finished it and the minor work it left, he had slogged through his last nine holes with four birdies, the kind of thing that can salvage a Friday.