Tiger Woods stalked his 90-foot eagle putt as if a victory depended on how well he could cozy it up to the hole.
In a sense, the stakes were nearly as high.
Woods was grinding Friday to make the weekend cut in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. After he reached the par-five ninth green on the North Course in two shots on his 18th hole of the day, all indications were that he’d need to manage two putts for birdie to hang around for the weekend.
Because Woods hadn’t seen a scoreboard over the last nine holes, he didn’t know exactly where he stood against the field, but he could probably sense it from the tense murmurs in the crowd. He had bogeyed the par-three eighth to fall outside the cut line.
After a very long look at the No. 9 green, Woods aligned himself to the ball, took his stroke, and a putt that looked too quick at the start ended up trickling to about eight inches short of the cup.
Tap-in birdie. Paycheck in Woods’ future. Entire golf world breathing a sigh of relief.
Overcoming a wild day with the driver, Woods finished the second round at one-under-par 71 to give him a one-under total for 36 holes. That fell exactly on the cut line.
Seventy-seven players were to begin the third round, with Ryan Palmer holding the lead after a five-under 67 on the North Course to get to 11 under.
Defending champion Jon Rahm (66, North Course) was alone in second at 10 under, while Luke List (66, South Course) and Tony Finau (70, South) were at nine under.
Twelve months removed from playing in his last official PGA Tour event, here at Torrey Pines, Woods has a chance to truly feel a competitive buzz for the first time in 889 days — since he tied for 10th in the Wyndham Championship in August 2015.
“It was a grind. I fought hard,” Woods said. “Typical, you know, just me going out there and fighting for whatever I can get.
“Everyone’s so stacked up, anybody can win the tournament who makes the cut. Hopefully, tomorrow I can go out there and post a low number.”
Getting to the weekend was a huge step for Woods, and it was big for golf. Judging by the thousands of fans following Woods and the raucous enthusiasm they showed, Woods’ presence continues to take interest to another level.
“Unless you’re in a major championship, you don’t get big crowds,” said Charley Hoffman, who played in Woods’ group the first two days and stands at three under. “He brings people out there.
“There’s no question I’m rooting for Tiger Woods. Obviously, on Sunday I want to beat him, but there’s not a person in this field that isn’t rooting for Tiger Woods to be back in the game and be competitive.”
When Woods said he fought to make the cut, he was talking about a full-on brawl with the North Course. The North’s fairways are narrowed to U.S. Open width for this event and rank among the hardest to hit on the PGA Tour.
It’s not a forgiving course for an uncooperative driver, and Woods’ club acted like a fitful 5-year-old. He found only three of 14 fairways and many of the drives were 30 to 40 yards off line.
Quipped a scribe following Woods: “I was inside the ropes more than Tiger.”
The most damaging miss was a hook at the par-four 13th that flew into a canyon, and Woods ended up with a double bogey to put him at two over.
But Woods literally scrambled back. He saved par on seven of the nine holes where he missed the green, and he needed only 24 putts on extremely firm putting surfaces that are less than two years old after the North was refurbished.
Woods drained a 40-foot putt on his 10th hole — No. 1 — and produced a couple of vintage short shots. From difficult positions off the green at the sixth (where he made par) and seventh (birdie), his flop shots were perfectly judged and made for short birdie putts.
“My short game’s been good all week,” Woods said. “I’m just trying to get used to the firmness of the greens. We can hear the ball land from the fairway. … They’re awfully springy and difficult.”
That condition contributed to Woods’ bogey on his 17th hole — the par-three eighth — that put his weekend in danger. His tee shot came up terribly short, and while his chip looked good off the club, it scooted off the back of the green.
“It looked like it hit ice,” Woods said.
A bogey there set up the drama at No. 9, where Woods missed the fairway right, but got a good lie and launched an iron that took a fortuitous, big bounce and rolled onto the green.
Hoffman, who has been on the PGA Tour for 13 years, was as compelled as any fan to see what would happen.
“That’s Tiger Woods at his best right there,” Hoffman said. “Sort of out of it, and not playing well, and going with what he’s got to make it happen.
“It’s just fun to see the energy out here again. Not saying it wasn’t here at all, but when he’s out here it’s something special. He is the needle as we say. I mean, he moves it.”