Woods Fires 66 to Seize Lead at AT&T National
Saturday, July 4, 2009
The assumption, at around noon yesterday, was that Tiger Woods would head to the clubhouse at Congressional Country Club with the lead in the AT&T National, and that later in the afternoon Anthony Kim would match -- and perhaps surpass -- the number Woods posted. That would set up a fireworks-filled weekend at the tournament Woods hosts in Bethesda, with golf's leading man and a swaggering Tiger wannabe staring each other down come sunset on Sunday.
"If that happens, it happens," Woods said after his sometimes-ragged-but-still-impressive 66 that got him to 10-under 130 through two rounds, firmly in the lead. It was hardly a dismissive assessment, because Woods knows Kim's enormous ability. But as Woods also likes to say, "This is golf." Kim is 24. He is emotional by nature. He has not won in a year. And hoping for a Sunday stare-down on a Friday afternoon amounts to exactly that: hope.
So it was that Kim dragged himself from the Blue Course after an even-par 70 and said, simply, "It was a grind." Instead of seizing the lead and battling Woods in today's third round, he battled his own swing and his own emotions, and he now sits two back of the lead, with 39-year-old Australian Rod Pampling (64-139) wedged in between.
"Probably one of my toughest ball-striking days in a long time," Kim said. "Being only two back is a blessing after today."
So it is in that fashion -- Woods's cold calculation and keep-it-together professionalism, combined with Kim's still-developing maturity -- that Congressional produced a leader board that might portend a wonderful holiday weekend. There is Woods, who is quite happy with the notion of winning his own event. There is Kim, who won here a year ago and is thus adored. As playing partner Jim Furyk said, "We had a ton of people. 'AK' actually draws a pretty good crowd."
There is, too, Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champ who had a 67 and sits three back. Toss in current U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover (66-135) and U.S. Amateur champ Danny Lee (67-135), and there are plenty of intriguing names within five shots of the lead.
It is a lead, though, that is held by Woods, so the assumption that anyone will be involved in a Sunday showdown is just that: an assumption. Woods has previously led 37 times midway through a PGA Tour event. He has won 31 of those times. That is a stat that just backs up the vibe the world's No. 1 player brings to an event.
"There's nothing wrong with stats," Furyk said. "It's just reiterating what he's done, and telling the truth. We all know he's tough to get the lead from when he gets out front, and he's playing real well right now. We've all got our hands full. He's the guy to chase."
He is in that position because when his game might have slipped away, he went back and grabbed it. He started on the back nine, and made a bogey at the tough, uphill, par-4 11th -- the only hole he bogeyed in Thursday's fine 64. But around the time he made the turn, Woods started, as he said, hitting the ball "a little bit scratchy at times."
That means he drove it in the rough on 17, but saved par. He hit it in a fairway bunker on the par-4 first, and calmly hit a pitching wedge to six feet, a remarkable birdie. He then found himself with an awkward, side-hill stance on a greenside knoll at the second, discovered a decent lie, and made a splendid chip to a couple feet. And at the third, he flubbed a wedge on his approach -- "Just a bad shot," he said -- but saved yet another par.
That, then, is how the best player in the world holds together rounds that might slip away from others. It is also, when post-tournament analyses are turned in, a significant component of how Woods wins so often.
"Even the tournaments where I've gone pretty low -- a couple tournaments where I've shot 25 under -- there's always that one day where you don't feel as good as the others," Woods said. "But sometimes those days you actually may score lower. . . . The game is just kind of weird that way."