Published 7:35 PM EDT Sep 21, 2018
ATLANTA – A U.S. Open feel has taken over The Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club, where the quality of play in the season-ending Tour Championship has turned into a survival of the fittest, with the battle against the stifling heat having been joined by a punishing clash with the course.
Pars mean something here at the FedExCup Playoffs finale, for this is nothing remotely resembling a birdie fest. With the greens speedy and firm, the rough nasty and the wind playing games on the players, it’s a pitched battle from the first tee through the 18th hole.
And Tiger Woods loves it this way.
He loves an atmosphere that tests his patience and forces him to grind, and Friday’s second round certainly did that on both counts. The par-70 gem caused consternation for most everyone in the 30-man field, including Woods, who could have lost his round on numerous occasions but never lost his cool and is at the top of the leaderboard.
“This is a tough golf course. A lot of pars are going to be made out here,” Woods said. “That's basically what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to make a bunch of pars and sprinkle in a few birdies here and there.”
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On a day he wasn’t sharp with his driver or irons, he did just that. He kept his mind on the difficult task at hand after a missed 4-foot par putt on the ninth that had him steaming. He didn’t lose his composure after a double-bogey 6 wiped out his two-stroke lead on the 16th, where his approach plugged in a bunker and his bogey putt hung on the lip.
Instead, he plugged along and saved pars with superb chips to set up tap-ins and saved pars with clutch putts from 5, 6, 8 and 9 feet. He also made the most of a round where he hit just seven of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens in regulation by capitalizing on his good birdie chances, like the 18-footer straight downhill on 2, 4-footer on 12, 18-footer on 14 and 2-footer on the last. And his 24-footer on the 15th found the cup for another birdie.
After taking a share of the lead after the first round with a 5-under-par 65, Woods turned a 72 or 73 into a 68 that left him in a share of the lead with Justin Rose at 7 under through 36 holes.
Woods, who has six top-6 finishes in his comeback season, last held a share of the 36-hole lead in August of 2015 at the Wyndham Championship.
“Rounds like today are hard, and they're hard mentally because you have to grind it out,” said Woods, who is seeking his 80th PGA Tour title and first since 2013. “You're not quite as sharp. It's easy to shoot low scores when you're sharp. It's a little bit more difficult to post a low number when I'm off.
“I was able to do that today, and I kept myself in the tournament.”
Woods will be alongside Rose (67) in the final pairing for Saturday’s third round, with the duo two clear of Rory McIlroy (68). Four players are another shot back at 4 under, including defending FedExCup champion Justin Thomas. Rickie Fowler, who shared the first-round lead, is at 3 under.
Woods and the rest of the field don’t expect scoring conditions to improve. For starters, the heat that reached into the 90s isn’t going away. The course should firm up, the greens might even get faster. And this course that features just two par-5s is not going to be pushed around.
Woods prefers it that way.
“I've won 14 majors, so I'm pretty good at being patient,” Woods said. “We're only halfway home, and this course, the way it's playing right now, you've got to be so patient. It's hard to make birdies, and on top of that, it's hard to get the ball close. It's very easy to make mistakes, make a few bogeys here and there. And look at most of the field, that's basically what they're doing.”