Tiger Woods' victory tour not far off
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- His second-round scorecard signed and recorded, Tiger Woods stood in the mist and drizzle of a Friday afternoon on the Monterey Peninsula and talked about what could have been.
He had just shot a 2-under-par 68 on a day when there wasn't enough of a breeze to disturb a strand of hair. It was sunny. Then overcast. Then wet. But it was never cruel -- not like the weather that sometimes rolls through here like the Hells Angels in a bad mood.
The 68 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club was nice, but it got him no closer than T-17 entering the weekend of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Six strokes and 16 other players -- including Dustin Johnson and oldies Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington (a combined 10 majors among the three of them) -- separate Woods from the top of the leaderboard.
"So I'm going to have to shoot a low one [Saturday] to give myself a chance going into Sunday," Woods said.
For all those who had Tiger in the This-Is-The-Week-He-Wins pool, you've got some problems. Don't tear up the ticket just yet, but Woods' quest to capture his first official tour event since 2009 has some steep hills to climb.
He's actually playing well. He's in the red (6 under for the tournament). He's in the fairways (he hit 11 of 13 on Friday). He's on the greens in regulation (16 of 18).
"Downhill putts aren't just going to go in," Woods said. "They're bobbing a little bit too much for that. So I didn't put myself in the easier spots. I had some bigger breaking putts or downhill putts, and consequently I just couldn't be aggressive."
That's sort of the technical explanation for why he didn't go lower at MPCC, the easiest of the three courses in the tournament rotation. A simpler way to put it is this: He couldn't get the biscuit in the basket.
Woods is an optimist by nature. If he stinks, he'll say so. But most of the time, he gives his game the benefit of the doubt. And right now, he likes what he's seeing -- even if what he's seeing doesn't feature him in the top 10 at Pebble.
On his ballstriking: "I hit it well."
On his putting: "I'm not displeased with my putting at all."
On his move to the Pebble Beach course for the final two rounds: "I've had some good moments over there."
By "good moments," he means he won the 2000 U.S. Open by 10,000 strokes ... he put together weekend rounds of 63 and 64 here in 1997 ... he recorded a third-round score of 66 here at the 2010 U.S. Open. So Woods and Pebble Beach have crushes on each other.
Will he win Sunday? Probably not.
Is his game now good enough to win? Absolutely.
His caddie, Joe LaCava, who started carrying Woods' bag this past October, has seen a difference during these past five months. And the difference is good.
"He's definitely hitting it more solid and farther," said LaCava, who isn't prone to exaggeration. "It's just a matter of making putts."
And just so there isn't any confusion, LaCava also said Woods is putting it well, too. Edges of cups are being burned.
There was a slight moment of terror for Team Tiger during Friday's round. On the par-4 No. 8 at MPCC, Woods injured his right wrist during an uphill shot out of a divot.
"Yeah, it hurt like hell when I did it," he said.
Then he channeled his inner NFL (after all, his Pro-Am playing partner is Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo) and popped the wrist back in place.
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"It was just a joint," Woods said. "No big deal."
I guess when you've won a U.S. Open on one leg and blown out an Achilles, a wrist owie is nothing.
If he wants to win this weekend, it will take lots of things to go right for Woods and lots of things to go wrong for everybody else. But I suppose anything is possible, right?
"I've had some good rounds over there," Woods said of Pebble Beach. "So I'm looking forward to posting one of those [Saturday]."
On behalf of the media, the galleries and the broadcast partners, nothing would make us happier. And an end to Woods' tour winless streak would make a nice headline for Monday.
But don't count on it -- too many players in front of him.
Still, the difference between Woods' comeback and his breakthrough is growing smaller all the time. It might not happen here, but the countdown is under way.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
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