As I followed Tiger Woods around Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio last week and watched him struggle through his first two rounds at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, it was clear one thing was going to have to improve immediately if he was going to have any success in that tournament.
Tiger needed to improve his play with the flat stick.
The 14-time major champion putted 33 times on Thursday and 29 times on Friday as he mustered a two-over-par score that left him in an unimpressive tie for 44th place.
But something clicked for Tiger as he neared the end of his second round, and it not only improved his putting numbers from Thursday, it served him well for the weekend where he finished his work week tied for eighth place with his sixth top-10 finish of 2012.
"I hit it good, made nothing," Tiger said to a modest gathering of reporters, myself included, after his Friday round of 72 placed him well behind the leaders. "I figured something out finally on the 17th hole, but too little, too late."
Whatever worked for Tiger last weekend might have been too late for that event—at least in terms of getting the W—but it carried over to this week's 94th PGA Championship on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, where Thursday he fired a first-round, three-under 69.
Tiger carded a mere 22 putts, which left him just three shots behind first-round leader Carl Pettersson.
He emphasized putting in his post-round presser (via ASAP Sports):
I putted well on the weekend, made a few adjustments Friday night last week and felt like I hit a lot of good putts. I started the ball on my start lines again, and I think I made six putts over 20 feet out there or something like that on the weekend, which is good. I came here with the same thoughts, same feels, and I made a few today.
Tiger started his round on the back nine and made six birdies altogether, including one stretch in which he holed three straight, at Nos. 9, 1 and 2.
He said he was pleased with the way he hit the ball today, but it certainly wasn't his best effort of the year. Tiger hit a respectable nine of 14 fairways but only 10 of 18 greens. Clearly, his short game saved him, and he rolled in most of his birdie opportunities when he had the chance.
"I'm going to do a little bit of work on the range, clean a few things up," Tiger added. "I know what to do, and I just need to do it."
If he does, in fact, do what he knows he needs to do from tee to green—and if he continues to putt as well as he has been putting over his last few competitive rounds—he will be difficult to beat as he attempts to end a four-year drought and capture his 15th major championship.