PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — When Tiger Woods arrived at the beginning of the Champions Course’s Bear Trap, the famous three-hole stretch of mean, green and plenty of water, he stood two shots out of the lead in Friday’s second round of the Honda Classic. And the PGA National Resort and Spa was ready to explode.
Then the Bear Trap mauled the Tiger.
In an otherwise solid round of golf on a windswept track, Woods dumped his tee shot into the water on the par-3 15th hole and made double-bogey 5 and then three-putted from 65 feet for bogey on the par-4 16th, his first putt racing by some 20 feet. He finished with a 1-over par 71.
Coupled with his opening 70, Woods stood at 1 over through 36 holes but was just four shots out of the lead set by Luke List and Jamie Lovemark. Woods said he grinded throughout his round, forced, at times, to muster all his talents just to make par. He and the rest of the field battled the high winds, the tough course and the difficult, crusty greens.
Only 10 players are in red numbers after 36 holes. And the battle will continue as conditions will not ease on the weekend.
“I made two bad swings and it cost me three shots,” Woods said. “Overall, it was a grind out there and it’s tough to make putts in the wind. … I really played well today. I played well all day. It was just tough scoring. It really is hard to make birdies. At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. Once you put the ball in birdie range, it's hard to make putts out here.
“It’s a strong test out there.”
For the most part, the winner of 79 PGA Tour titles and 14 majors is passing the test in his third start on the PGA Tour after taking a year off to recover following spinal fusion surgery.
After tying for 23rd in his first start in the Farmers Insurance Open in January, he missed the cut in last week’s Genesis Open. But heading into the Honda Classic, Woods said he was once again getting used to the cadence of playing professional golf and acclimating to the ramped-up pressure when a scorecard is in his pocket. He added, after his first round, that he “was close” to putting all his game together.
As he did in round one, Woods was forced to resort to numerous shots to get around the Champions Course, successfully hitting shots left to right and right to left, hitting shots high and low. He has opted to hit many knock-down, three-quarter shots to counter the wind. He’s effectively hit delicate chip shots and demanding bunker shots. And he’s hitting the ball long.
“The game feels good out there, feels solid,” Woods said.
Except for the tee shot on the 15th and the first putt on 16, that is.
On the 15th, a par-3 of 164 yards that is guarded down the entire right side by water and protected by deep bunkers on the left, Woods tried to draw the ball into the green and came up short. It was the first time in the 13 times he’s played the hole that he found water.
On the 16th, a par-4 of 434 yards, he tugged his approach and had 65 feet. But his first putt went about 90 feet and he didn’t make the comebacker.
But Woods did comeback on the next hole, the tough 17th, a par-3 of 182 yards that also is guarded by water. This time, he took a little off a 5-iron and knocked his tee shot to 12 feet and made the birdie putt.
“I'm four back,” Woods said. “I'm right there in the ballgame. … I feel like I'm right there. I'm right where I can win a golf tournament. You know, four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It's wide open.”