Tiger Woods treats every shot like it’s life or death.
Golf’s greatest player was its ultimate grinder during his heyday. After seeing the game nearly slip away due to a series of injuries, the 42-year-old has even more fight inside.
Woods is playing for more than himself.
Following a lackluster even-par 72 Friday, Woods is eager to stay in contention this weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. When Woods picks up his children at school next week, he hopes to hear how dad wowed them again.
A day after last Sunday’s runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship, Woods was a little surprised to hear his daughter Sam, 10, and son, Charlie, 8, did not miss a shot.
“It was pretty neat,” Woods said. “Because I have been away from it for so long and they were so young when I was playing well, they don’t remember any of it. So this is pretty neat for me to be able to experience this with them.
“ ‘Dad’s got a chance to win on Sunday; he made a big putt on 17,’ and, you know, they went through all the different scenarios and the people who were there and what they hit, what shots. I mean, they were watching.”
Everyone has been riveted by the latest comeback of Sam and Charlie’s father.
But a day after he energized record crowds with a 4-under par 68 at Bay Hill, Woods was off his game. Yet he still managed to do enough to hang round entering the weekend.
“It was a grind,” he said. “It wasn’t sharp, but I hung in there and just kept grinding away and chipped away at the golf course. I didn’t hit the ball close. I didn’t hit the ball well.
“But I was just hanging in there, hanging in there and just trying not to shoot myself out of the tournament.”
Woods still has a chance, but he has a lot of work to do after Friday left him seven shots behind leaders Henrik Stenson and Bryson DeChambeau.
Woods has never been this far back and won before at Bay Hill. In 2008, he erased a six-shot deficit after 36 holes with a pair of 66s on the weekend to edge Bart Bryant by a shot.
Back then, the weekend weather was warm and Palmer’s golf course played firm and fast — conditions Woods expects to see again today and Sunday.
“There’s a lot of guys between myself and the lead and if it gets warm like it’s supposed to get on the weekend, then we’re going to make some birdies. The golf course is going to be very short,” Woods said. “That’s the way this golf course is meant to be played. That’s how Arnold always wanted it to be played. He always wanted it hard, fast. He wanted the greens dead by the time we played on Sunday.
“I think we’re going to have that.”
But the condition of Woods’ game will have to improve dramatically for him to have a chance.
Thursday’s 68 was solid but also flawed. Woods was 4-under on Bay Hill’s four par-5s but also needed a 11-foot par save on the final hole and some key up-and-downs.
On Friday, little went right for Woods.
Teeing off on No. 1, Woods bogeyed the opening hole, did not hit a green in regulation until No. 5 or find a fairway until the par-5 12th hole, which yielded Woods’ first of two birdies on the day.
Two birdie putts from Woods did lip out, including on the 18th hole. But he also sank a 20-foot putt for par on the 15th hole that may have kept his round from going off the rails.
“Today was just a bad day,” he said. “It wasn’t sharp; it wasn’t crisp.”
Meanwhile, Stenson followed a scintillating 64 with a bogey-free 69 while DeChambeau carded a 66, tying Charley Hoffman for low round of the day. Hoffman is four back at 7-under.
Talor Gooch (-9) and B.Y. An (-8) are ahead of him while Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed headline a quintet of players a shot behind Hoffman.
But for one more day, all eyes are sure to be on Woods.
Woods hopes to put on a show this weekend for two children in South Florida who do not remember the last time he won in 2013.
“As long as I can just keep chipping away at it, keep working my way up the board,” he said. “I haven’t made a lot of bogeys in the last week and a half, but I haven’t made a lot of birdies, either.
“I got to do a better job of that this weekend in order to run down these guys.”