Tiger Woods couldn't quite reach a revered achievement, but still managed to provide one of the most riveting golf rounds in recent memory. The legendary figure caught fire Friday at Firestone, turning the Bridgestone Invitational tournament into a personal tour de force.
Less than two weeks after a final-round 74 caused him to slip into a tie for sixth place at the Open Championship, he registered a remarkable afternoon in Akron that ranks among the greatest efforts of his illustrious career. Woods tied his top Tour score of 61 after flirting with 59 down the stretch, scorching the field at Firestone along the way.
His nine-under-par performance vaulted him to the top of the leaderboard, where he will begin Saturday with a seven-stroke lead over Chris Wood and Keegan Bradley. Woods currently sits at 13-under-par, running away with first place at a tournament he's won seven times in 13 tries.
Questions swirling around Woods' ability to end his five-year major title drought intensified following the British Open, but Friday's performance served as a reminder of his unparalleled abilities.
Woods didn't waste any time putting on a show.
Tiger tallied a birdie on the first hole, before draining an eagle on the ensuing hole. When he birdied No. 3, Woods was suddenly the tournament's top man.
The early success provided an early indication of the special afternoon that awaited in Akron. Aside from a birdie on No. 7, he posted par on the remaining front-nine holes.
Just when it appeared Woods was, perhaps, stalling a bit, he caught fire on the back nine. Four consecutive birdies presented him with a realistic opportunity to chase down one of sports' hallowed achievements—logging a 59.
The holy grail of golf was within reach if Woods could birdie two of the round's final five holes. That's when the sports world turned its attention to Akron as golf history was suddenly at stake.
Woods compiled 11 one-putts through 13 holes, putting on a clinic from various distances on the green. He didn't miss an attempt from inside 10 feet during that stretch.
After pars on 14 and 15, Woods reached the final three-hole stretch, knowing exactly what he needed to notch a sub-60 score. The feat would require two birdies and no bogey, but it wasn't in the cards for Woods.
His par on 16 increased the intensity, and when Woods missed a seven-foot birdie putt on 17, the quest for 59 came to an end.
An adventurous 18th hole took Tiger through the trees, but he proved to be an escape artist and cupped a dramatic 26-foot par putt to put a bow on an indelible afternoon.
Tiger raised his right arm in celebration. The crowd roared. The dream of 59 was gone, but not forgotten.
Woods finished at 61 for the fourth time in his career, the second time at Firestone, and the first time since 2005.
"Am I disappointed?" Woods said when asked about falling shy of 59 (h/t USA Today). "Absolutely not, nope. Sixty-one's pretty good. I'm not bummed.
Take into consideration that Woods only attempted 23 putts through 18 holes and it's enough to make you scratch your head.
Perhaps, it's the day Tiger truly returned to the sport's mountaintop, though many will maintain that accomplishment requires an elusive major title.
Two rounds and six days separate Woods from the PGA Championship, where he will aim to win his 15th major title and first in five years. That hype will hit another level next week, but now is the time to acknowledge that we just witnessed one of the game's all-time greats play his finest golf.