This is not, though, a casual pursuit, not just “one of those things.” What lies ahead for Woods on Saturday and Sunday at Muirfield will help define his career, furthering one of two things: his legacy or his drought.
And there are some discouraging recent signs. In the six majors since the start of 2012, Woods has cumulatively scored 6 under par in the first and second rounds. Thereafter, he is 29 over. This includes the weekend at the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic, which he entered with a share of the lead, then promptly closed with rounds of 75 and 73 to tumble into a tie for 21st. It includes last year’s British Open at Royal Lytham, which he opened with a pair of 67s, then closed 70-73.
“I give myself chances,” Woods said. “And this is going to be a difficult one.”
True, because even as Woods played in the morning, when there was still at least a few drops of moisture in the earth beneath Muirfield, balls ran through fairways into the deep, gnarly grass. Come the weekend, the leaders will play late, when the conditions are the most difficult.
But Woods, too, has a few things going for him. First, his putter. Put aside, for a moment, the two three-putts on his front side Friday — missed par putts from three feet at 4 and five feet at 8. Beyond that were the par-savers, the kind of crucial putts he made when he won majors.
“I lost track of how many eight-, 10-, 15-footers he’s made for par over the last two days,” McDowell said.
Add to that how he is striking the ball. In McDowell’s estimation, no one in the world is hitting his irons better. And how many drivers — infuriating, erratic drivers — has Woods hit at Muirfield? “About eight or 10,” he said. Where? “On the range.”
So when McDowell and Woods finished up at 18, McDowell delivered a message to the world’s top-ranked player.
“That was a clinic the last two days,” McDowell said he told Woods. “That was very impressive.”
Whoever wins at Muirfield, be it Woods or one of the accomplished men who chases him, will have to be impressive. The sun is not forecast to go away. Neither is the challenge of the golf course, hard in every sense of the word.
Notes: McIlroy’s Open ended early because he followed up his opening 79 by playing his first eight holes in 5-over par. Before he departed after a 75 that left him 12 over, missing the cut, he provided one last analysis of his mystifying 2013, in which he has failed to win in 14 tries with his fourth missed cut.
“I think it’s been a combination of things, to be honest,” McIlroy said. “I think schedule hasn’t been quite right. Swing hasn’t been quite right. And a combination of those has led to, I guess, sloppy play just because of not [being] sharp enough.” . . .
A day after opening his 28th British Open with a surprising 67, Mark O’Meara shot a 78 to drop back to 3 over for the tournament. He was not alone in those among the older set having trouble. Tom Lehman, 53, opened with a 68, but his 77 on Friday included four bogeys, a double and no birdies. He’s also 3 over.