CHASKA, Minn. – Even Mother Nature took a swing at Tiger Woods.
Playing Friday afternoon, when the highest winds were whipping Hazeltine National and nearly half the field, Woods shot a 2-under-par 70 to take a four-shot lead over five players – including today’s playing partner, Vijay Singh (72) – at the halfway point of the 91st PGA Championship.
“I was very pleased,” Woods said. “The wind was up today. It was pretty blustery. It was changing directions a little bit here and there. It was affecting putts. You had to play the wind on putts. And it was all in all just a very difficult day. … I just had to grind it out.”
This is the ninth 36-hole lead in a major of Woods’ career. And – surprise, surprise – he’s 8 for 8 at this point.
“All the times that I’ve been in this position, I have played well,” Woods said. “And I’m playing well now.”
Joining Singh in the pack at 3 under are U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover (70), Australian Brendan Jones (70), Englishman Ross Fisher (68) and defending champion Padraig Harrington (73), who played with Woods the first two days.
Twelve players are under par, which is 14 fewer than were under par through 18 holes, and 25 are at even par or better, 18 fewer than the day before. The only players to break 70 were Fisher, Tim Clark and Ernie Els, who each shot 68. Fisher was the only one of the three who played in the afternoon.
“It was tough out there,” Harrington said.
Among those who would agree are Sergio Garcia (78), world No. 5-ranked Steve Stricker (77) and Mathew Goggin, who fell 79 spots with an 80. All three missed the cut. Phil Mickelson (74) made the 4-over cut line on the number, while Minnesota native Tom Lehman (74) and British Open champion Stewart Cink (73) are 2 over.
Woods had the favorable morning shift Thursday and took advantage with a 67 that led by one. The second round was a different story as the wind gradually picked up throughout the day. By the time Woods teed off at 1:45 p.m., he was heading into the hardest gusts and the hottest day of the year in Minnesota.
No problem. He backed off numerous putts but simply regrouped.
Game, set and, perhaps, match. Of course, the three-time major winner Singh, 46, might have something to say about that.
“I know Vijay isn’t going to make a lot of mistakes,” Woods said. … “It’s going to be a lot more fun for both of us tomorrow.”
Throughout the day, five players were tied for the lead. But Woods never lost it despite the wind and greens he said had become “bouncy” by the time he closed his round by missing a 10-footer for par on No. 18.
While Woods made two par-saving putts on 11 and 12, Harrington bogeyed 11, 12 and 13 to fall back. Fisher got to 7 under on the day and tied with Woods before carding bogeys at the final two holes. Lee Westwood, also playing in the afternoon, got to 4 under but doubled 17 in the swirling wind to finish 2 under.
Woods is within 36 holes of winning his 15th major and record-tying fifth PGA Championship.
Asked if “there’s ever been a single instance in a major where you’ve done what you consider to be choking,” Woods didn’t even verbalize an answer. He shook his head ever so slightly. So slightly that the interview moderator said, “We’ll take that to be a no?”