X

Masters 2011 Leaderboard: Tiger Woods Back in the Swing; Hunting Down Leaders

Ted JohnsonAnalyst IApril 9, 2011

Confident and controlled on Friday, Woods will try to hunt down leaders Rory McIroy and Jason Day in Saturday's third round.
Confident and controlled on Friday, Woods will try to hunt down leaders Rory McIroy and Jason Day in Saturday's third round.Andrew Redington/Getty Images

The second-round 66 by Tiger Woods at the Masters was not the Tiger of old, but it showed us enough to suggest that he’s closer than ever to being the dominant golfer we have come to expect.

What did we see other than brilliance that comes once a generation? The delicate chips, the shaped drives (mostly with a 3-wood), solid iron play and good putting, all topped with a quiet confidence of a man who knows how to control the emotions that come on such hallowed grounds.

After three bogeys and two birdies through seven holes, which left him even for the tournament, Woods’ game took form. Shaped drives, crisp iron play and solid putting accounted for six birdies over eight holes and seven of the last 11 (and should have been eight but for a missed six-footer on No. 16). Woods finds himself right where he knows his mere presence has an impact on the tournament.

“I played myself into it,” he said afterward, as quoted by Reuters and other agencies. He played himself right into breathing hot Tiger breath on the lead group, who will be playing behind Woods and K.J. Choi on Saturday.

That’s right, 21-year-old Rory McIlroy and 23-year-old Jason Day will be close enough to witness first-hand the Tiger rush that comes at the Masters. Crowds surging over the ropes, hushed silences followed by rolling roars, echoing through the pines and right into the marrow. Was that a birdie, or a saved par?

Call it Tiger Breath: that sweaty discomfort that comes in knowing the guy in front of you understands the demands of Augusta National like few others and, more importantly, has the guts and talent to pull off all the shots.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Friday’s prime example: A 155-yard high, hard cut from the right rough on No. 18 launched like a Saturn V rocket, bending ever to the right before landing middle-right of the green and settling but 10 feet from the cup. Naturally, Woods capped it off with the delicate putt.

There are a few in the field who can pull off that approach shot, but not many can do it when it really counts. Mickelson, yes, but his 72 on Friday left him eight shots off the pace. And that has to give Woods the confidence going into the weekend.

On Friday, he went from tied for 24th to tied for third in 24 hours, and he knows it could have been better. In contrast, McIlroy got the most out of his 69, but a snapped drive on No. 11 that didn’t cost him suggests a little leakage has crept into the swing.

We’ll see how that leak has been repaired come Saturday, otherwise known as “moving day” in a pro tournament.

Jason Day’s 64 was brilliant, but that’s one day of hitting it pure. Saturday, he’ll wait until his mid-afternoon tee time before he gets a chance to see if he can duplicate. His youth and Masters inexperience suggests that he’s due for a meltdown.

Outside of Woods, here are the golfers within five shots of McIlroy: Lee Westwood (72-67) Rickie Fowler (70-69), Fred Couples (71-68), Ricky Barnes (68-71), Y.E. Yang (67-72), Alvaro Quiros (65-73), Geoff Ogilvy (69-69) and K.J. Choi (67-70).

Westwood and Ogilvy stand out. They’re battle-tested, though Westwood’s relatively poor chipping skills may come back to haunt him. Ogilvy’s short game tends toward the brilliant.

But do they have what Tiger has? The capability to pull off any shot—high-right fade, low-sweeping hook, feather flop or a bump-and-run—at any time?

For that matter, does Woods? We’ve seen this before. A hot second round (66) in last year’s U.S. Open gave promise but closing rounds of 72-74 dropped him into fourth.

That was the same pattern in last year’s Masters, when Woods came off a long layoff from injury and personal crisis to post rounds of 68-70-70-69. In that, the third round featured seven birdies but also five bogeys.

Friday, Woods showed that he’s still capable of making birdies, but he’s also much more in control, and that means less chance for bogey. McIlroy can feel the pressure already.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.