“You just can’t fake it around this golf course,” Woods said.
Woods’s bounce-back performance Friday, which left him 2-under par and six off the lead, doesn’t mean that he, or anyone else, has solved this place with any degree of consistency. Yes, Zach Johnson shot 66 Friday, Kevin Na 69, and Matt Kuchar 68, and they share the lead at 8-under 136. But among some of the field’s most notable names, there was more chaos than calm.
Consider that Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world and reigning U.S. Open champ, shot 76 Friday and missed the cut by four shots. Steve Stricker, who had the PGA Tour’s longest string of consecutive cuts made at 49, backed up his opening 76 with a 74, and the streak ended. Ian Poulter, who shared the lead after his first-round 65, opened with two double bogeys in his first four holes en route to 76. Martin Laird, who was tied with Poulter overnight, had the lead all to himself before dunking two balls in the water and finishing bogey-double bogey-bogey.
How to figure this place out?
“Hopefully I’m coming back here for another 20 years,” McIlroy said. “If I don’t figure it out on my 20th go, there’s something wrong.”
There might not be anything wrong, technically, with Sawgrass. “It’s very well done,” Phil Mickelson said before the tournament began. But there is little consistency to the champions it has produced. Players of great accomplishment (Woods, Mickelson) and great ability (Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott) have won here. But so have the odd Tim Clark, the random Fred Funk, the surprising Craig Perks and Stephen Ames. Over the past 19 years, 19 men have taken the Players’ title. There are, the saying goes, different horses for different courses. But what kind of horse is suited to the Stadium Course?
“I don’t know what it is about this place,” a beffudled McIlroy said afterward, in the midst of explaining that there is no other course on which he is so uncomfortable.
Consider Woods, who won less than two months ago at Bay Hill in Orlando, the seventh time he has taken that tournament. He has won that many times at Firestone Country Club in Akron as well. Woods has four Masters titles, Mickelson three. Take a course, match a player, and there should be some connection between game and results.