Tiger Woods shot a 1-over 71 Friday to back up his 70 in Round 1 on Thursday for a 36-hole total of 141. He is tied for 14th after the first two rounds of play at the Honda Classic, just four back of the lead, and will have a tee time around the leaders in Round 3. Woods juiced up a late-afternoon Palm Beach crowd with three birdies, a 361-yard drive (more on that in a minute), an incredible shot on No. 17 and haymaker fist pumps. It was ... well, it was some legitimately exciting golf in late February, which is something we have have been missing for the last few years.
I have no idea if Woods is actually going to get in position to win this tournament, but I do know he looks far better than I've seen him all year -- or in several years, for that matter. For him to be dropping 70-71 just eight rounds into what amounts to a return from two and a half years off is absolutely startling, especially when the field average soared above 73 once again on Friday.
Here are five thoughts on Woods' 71 in Round 2.
1. Improved greens in regulation: The driver has gotten all of the publicity, but one of the bigger issues for Tiger has been his distance control and inability to give himself 10, 12 and 15-foot putts. He did that on Friday and made a handful of them. He said at Riviera that his calling card throughout his career has been distance control, and he clearly worked on it in the off week. If -- and it's a big if -- he can tame the big dog driver, it looks like we're going to get a really solid Tiger in 2018.
Tiger's average proximity to the hole is 26'9" this week. Last week, it was more than 10 feet further away (37'1").— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) February 23, 2018
2. Open-like conditions help: The driver was again taken out of Tiger's hands on Friday, at least partly on account of the conditions at PGA National. Woods said the Thursday conditions at the Honda Classic reminded him of an Open Championship, and it makes sense that Woods would thrive in these circumstances. He hit a high percentage of 3-woods and 2-irons off the tee once again, and as a result he hit 11 of 14 fairways.
3. So much power: Woods hit a 361-yard drive on the par-4 10th hole, but I'm less concerned with the distance and the carry of 314. The thing that pops to me is a ball speed of 184 MPH.
To put this into context, only four golfers have hit a top speed of 185 MPH or higher this year:
- Brandon Hagy: 192.12
- Dustin Johnson: 185.09
- Luke List: 185.05
- Trey Mullinax: 185.02
Your daily reminder that Woods had his back fused together last year! This is also why he won't put the driver down. He knows what's still in there, and he knows he can contend with it. That will probably get him into trouble, but man, it's fun to watch.
4. Tiger is fired up again: Woods went nuts after making this par-saving putt on the 11th hole. He knows that par-savers keep rounds together, and rounds that are kept together result in nervy Sunday afternoons (which is what he's shooting for). There might be some who grimace at Woods pumping a par on his 29th hole of the tournament, but this is a big deal and he knows it.
He also had an unbelievable birdie at No. 17, one of just a few on that hole on the day that doubled as the coolest moment of his round on Friday.
Whoa! He holed the birdie putt at the 17th, place going nuts! He gets standing ovation walking in the putt.— GC Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) February 23, 2018
5. Does he have a real chance this weekend? Yes. Absolutely he does. Because of the conditions. Because of the way he's hitting it off the tee (sans driver). And because his short game has been impressive all year. Even at four strokes back of the lead, Woods can wriggle his way into contention with something strong on Saturday. If that happens, Sunday will be madness. Pre-March madness. I'm here for it. You are, too. The only question is whether Tiger himself will be.