Tiger stormed out of the gates Friday with a three-under-par 33 on his front nine and went on to shoot a second round 71, now just three shots off the leader, Jason Day (-6).
It was a tale of two nines for Woods, who has now gone eight consecutive rounds at the Masters without going under par on the back nine. Breaking that trend must be his goal Saturday if he hopes to contend at the Masters.
Initially, there was an impenetrable rhythm to Tiger’s second round. Not Amen Corner, gusting winds, a loaded leaderboard led by veteran Fred Couples, or even a late-round dose of bad luck could stop Woods’ momentum Friday at Augusta.
He'd give away two shots on his back nine, but overall it was a strong, positive performance. Let's take a deeper dive into the individual aspects of Woods' game Friday at the 77th Masters.
Tiger showed a craftiness and touch on the greens Friday that reminded golf fans and competitors alike why he owns four green jackets.
What stuck out most about Tiger's putting performance was his firm grasp of Augusta's greens speed. It's well known the Masters greens are the fastest golfers face all season.
Woods' putts were well-read and well-executed, especially on his front nine. He rarely left himself a tough second putt, which were almost always to save par. When you don't have to fret or over-analyze par-saving putts, you are at a huge advantage over your peers.
His birdies at the 5th, 7th and 8th holes were impressive and propelled him up the leaderboard into contention. He went without a single birdie on the back nine, but did convert clutch par-putts at the 12th, 14th and 16th holes.
Despite a single three putt at the 18th, it was a terrific putting display and one that should carry over into moving day, Saturday at the Masters.
Tiger’s extension through the ball was intentional from his first swing Friday to his last, none more so than with the driver in hand. The extension was crucial to both his accuracy and distance.
In his pre-shot routine, Woods stood behind his ball while rehearsing his swing slowly, meticulously. Then he'd stand directly behind the ball and gaze at the hole, visualizing the shot he wanted to hit.
After striking the ball, you always know Tiger hit it where he wanted when he doesn’t need to watch his ball soar through the air. Tiger only gave his drive a second look a few times Friday.
He was cool and confident with the club that has been his Achilles Heel several times, especially in the last few years.
Not only was Tiger finding the fairway on a consistent basis, but he also showed off some serious power, averaging right around 300-yards per drive. On a lengthy course like Augusta that is well over 7,400-yards, his massive drives are not just an advantage, they may be the nail in the coffin for the rest of the field if his short game backs it up.
Woods can stride to the first tee Saturday confident in his game off the tee.
Friday was a complete 180 from Thursday's ebb and flow ball-striking.
Tiger showed poise hitting safer, more conservative irons shots into Augusta’s most treacherous holes. No. 11 was a great example because the fairway and green severely slopes from left to right and a giant water hazard looms like a magnet for golf balls. On that hole, Woods both found the fairway and hit a conservative approach shot the lower-right side of the green out of trouble.
When Woods wasn't playing defense, he was bold, hitting an array of high-arching shots into Augusta’s more receptive greens. One of his best came at the par-4 fifth hole where Woods hit a terrific iron to set up his first birdie of the day.
There were moments where Woods didn't make the right adjustment, like at the par-4 14th hole, when he didn't take enough wind into account and ended up blasting an iron shot well over the green. Or at the 18th where he hit his ball too deep into the green, which led to a three-putt and his second bogey of the day, third of the championship.
Despite a few tough breaks towards the end of his round, it was still a solid ball-striking performance and the kind that will give Woods momentum heading into Round 3.
Woods played nearly error-free golf Friday — and as a result — his short game was rarely challenged. Where he’d needed to recover from poor distance control in his first five holes Thursday, Friday was a day mostly defined by precision and clutch saves.
The 14th hole was Tiger’s first true test of his short game.
After overshooting the green, Woods faced a delicate chip into an undulating green with wicked fast speed. But Tiger analyzed his shot from a variety of angles before executing. He chipped his ball into the slope of the green and let it feed down towards the hole. It settled about six feet from the cup and Tiger sank the putt to save par.
Woods' short game has been crucial to his three victories this season, and even more pivotal in vaulting him back to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings. At Augusta National, short game is often the factor that defines the Masters champion.
Woods can take home a fifth green jacket if his short game holds up.
Tiger played the front nine to a ‘T,’ and posted a bogey-free 3-under-par 33.
A bogey free card is often the product of smart decision-making, and that’s just what Tiger gave us. He showed respect for Augusta’s most deceptive holes and also those where he didn’t have an opportunity to be aggressive.
For example, on the par-5 13th hole, Woods didn’t curve his drive enough around the dog-leg to get the added yardage from riding the slope of the fairway. Instead of trying to muscle his second shot onto the green in two, he knows far too well of Rae’s Creek that borders the 15th green and as a result he laid up. He then hit a tight wedge shot into the green for his third.
That’s the sign of not just a veteran player, but someone who’s managing the course intelligently.
Unfortunately, while his front nine was full of excellent shots, Woods didn't have the same luck on the back nine. First and foremost, Woods did not take advantage of the par-5's, which has historically proven to be absolutely vital to the player who wins the Masters.
Second, he ended up giving a few shots back on his second nine, the first because of an unlucky bounce off the flagstick at the 15th hole that caused his ball to ricochet backwards into the water hazard. Another came at the 18th hole after Woods flew his second shot too deep into the green, leaving a tricky read and ultimately led to a three putt, bogey.