John Raoux/Associated Press
John Raoux/Associated Press
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – The major known as “Glory’s Last Shot” turned into one last chance for Tiger Woods.
On the toughest scoring day in PGA Championship history, Woods made putts from one end of Kiawah Island to the other Friday for a 1-under 71 that gave him a share of the lead at 4 under with Vijay Singh and Carl Pettersson going into the final two rounds.
“It was tough out there – wow,” Woods said.
In relentless wind that began at sunrise and whipped up the Atlantic waters with 30 mph gusts, par never looked better in this championship. There were more rounds in the 90s – two of them by club pros – than in the 60s. There were 41 players who failed to break 80, a list that included Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan.
Singh, a three-time major champion who hasn’t won in nearly four years, scratched out five birdies in a remarkable round of 3-under 69. Only three other players managed to break par in the second round – Michael Hoey of Northern Ireland at 70 and Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ian Poulter at 71.
It’s the second time this year that Woods has had a share of the lead in a major going into the weekend. He missed one chance at Olympic Club in the U.S. Open, when he stumbled to a 75-73 to tie for 21st. He was in the penultimate group at the British Open until a triple bogey on the sixth hole of the final round took him out of the mix.
One last major, one last shot.
“I’ve been in this position many times over my career,” he said. “Again, we’re just at the halfway point. We have a long way to go.”
Six players were atop the leaderboard on this day of survival. Singh was the first to post at 4-under 140, and it didn’t look as though anyone would be able to even match that as the wind never let up on The Ocean Course.
Pettersson stayed in the lead as long as he could until a few errant tee shots cost him at the end of his round, and he had to settle for a 74. Woods, playing on the opposite side of the course, showed early on that he figured out something with his putter.
Along with birdie putts of 15 feet and 40 feet on the opening two holes, there was a collection of big par saves – from 20 feet on the third hole, a pair of 8-foot par putts a few holes later. There were even two short par putts that swirled 360 degrees around the cup and dropped.
The only disappointment was the way it ended. After hooking a tee shot that rattled around the corporate tents and allowed him a shot into the 18th, he ran his birdie putt about 6 feet by the hole and three-putted for bogey.
It cost him his first outright lead in a major in three years, but this was not a day to complain.
“It was fun, but it also was tough,” Woods said. “You were getting blown all over the place. It was just a very difficult day.”
Poulter was tied for the lead until a bogey on his last hole, though he showed again that he can thrive in windy, demanding conditions. The last time he was in serious contention at wind-swept Royal Birkdale in 2008, when he was runner-up to Padraig Harrington.
“The golf shots this golf course asks you to hit time and time and time and time again ... you really have to hit phenomenal golf shots,” Poulter said. “The room for error is so tiny, and when you get it wrong, you can be 15 feet below the level of the green in a bad lie with not much of a shot.”
The course played so difficult that the afternoon groups were delayed 20 minutes, and one player failed to finish – Joost Luiten of the Netherlands, who was 1 over for the tournament and will return Saturday morning to complete his round. The scoring average was 78.11. The previous record for the PGA Championship was 76.8 in the opening round at Llanerch Country Club in 1958.
Singh is 49 and without a PGA Tour win in nearly four years. He stood tall in the wind, however, even as he kept his head down.
“After a while, you don’t really think about your score,” said Singh, whose last major victory was at the 2004 PGA on the first visit to Whistling Straits. “You just think about each hole, each shot and just try not to mess up. It was one of my better rounds. I didn’t strike the ball as good, but I scored really, really well. And I think that was the key.”
There were 44 players under par after the opening day. Going into the weekend, there were only 10.
Rory McIlroy didn’t make a birdie until his 14th hole – a tough par 3 that he has birdied both rounds – and had a 75. He was at 2-under 142, along with Jamie Donaldson of Wales, who had a 73 and was thrilled after his morning round. “That’s the best I can do,” he said.
Adam Scott also had a 75 to join the group at 143 that included Aaron Baddeley (75), Blake Adams (72) and former Masters champion Trevor Immelman (72).
“I thought 2 over (Friday) was like shooting 2 under (Thursday),” Pettersson said. “I hit some squirrely shots, which is typical when it’s blowing 30 mph. But I hit some really good ones, too.”
Mickelson, who is No. 8 in the Ryder Cup standings going into the final week of qualifying, came out firing into the wind with a 4-iron to about 2 feet and then a driver off the fairway to give himself a decent chance at birdie on the 11th. He didn’t advance any further up the leaderboard. He also didn’t fall too far back, and that was just as important. He was in the group at even-par 144, not knowing what the weekend will hold.
Graeme McDowell had a 76 and was tied with Mickelson, still only four shots behind.
“I was very happy to get off that golf course, I have to say,” McDowell said. “I’m trying to think of the last time I remember a golf course playing this difficult, because it’s a links wind, blowing across a golf course which is super soft, with some of the most difficult pins on the course out there. It’s brutal.”
Woods was not immune to the windy conditions. With a sand wedge in his hand on the third, he knocked it over the green and appeared headed for bogey until his 20-foot par putt was true all the way. He looked solid on par putts at No. 5 and No. 7, and his chip from below the ridge on the ninth stopped a turn from falling.
He never looked as if he would miss, even rolling in a 12-foot par putt on the 17th. The only big blip came at the 18th, his second bogey of the round. Already this week, the PGA statisticians have Woods for 23 one-putt greens. Asked if there was a putting performance that stood out among his 14 majors, he cited the 1997 Masters and 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He won those two by a combined 27 shots.
Then again, he had put some distance between him and the field.
This PGA Championship remains wide open, and so much depends on whether the wind continues to blow, and the scores continue to soar.
Doug Wade, a club pro from Dayton, Ohio, had a 93. That was one shot away from the PGA Championship record for the worst score. Michael Frye, a club pro from Sedona, Ariz., finished par-birdie-par on three of the tougher holes for a 90.
They weren’t alone, of course. Mahan and Fowler had 80, Kuchar an 82, Nick Watney an 81. It was a long list of suffering, so difficult that no one was embarrassed or angry. Most were just happy to be off the golf course.
“If you had a golf course like this, and you asked me to go and play golf in windy conditions, I’d say, ‘No, I’m not going to play.’ I guess nobody is going to go out and play in conditions like this,” Singh said. “But it’s a major, and we have to go out there and just struggle and manage yourself the best you can.”
Evan Vucci/Associated Press