AKRON, OH - AUGUST 03: A detailed view of Tiger Woods's shoes on the green on the 11th hole during a practice round for the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club on August 3, 2011 in Akron, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
The secret to Tiger Woods' stellar second round at Sawgrass may have nothing to do with swing changes, reps, or traj. It could be as simple as a new pair of slippers.
The PGA Tour has Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainy, and now it has Tiger "New Shoes" Woods.
Who knew that all Woods needed to turn his game around and cruise into the weekend at Sawgrass were some new kicks? For sure, before security personnel delivered a fresh Nike TW 13 to Woods during Friday’s second round at The Players Championship, Tiger was plodding along at even-par for his front nine and still two shots on the wrong side of the projected cut line.
One replaced slipper later -- a broken lace was to blame, according to Golf Channel’s Dottie Pepper -- and Woods turned into a birdie machine, chalking up four straight birds on either side of making the turn.
Of course, there was a collective virtual intake of breath on Twitter when the camera zoomed in on Woods’ footwear as he played the sixth hole. The last time Woods made a public shoe change, he ended up quitting the Cadillac Championship with a bad wheel, so observers were justifiably suspect of Friday's wardrobe malfunction.
“Tiger has just changed his shoes,” tweeted Golf.com’s Paul Mahoney. “Here comes the limp.” He added the hashtag “wd” for good measure.
“Tiger changes shoes in middle of hole?” observed CBSSports.com’s Steve Elling. “Is this a Nike publicity stunt?”
@GCTigerTracker noted that it was a false alarm, but “after early [injury-related] exits” from the last two Players Championships, “officials R a tad jumpy.”
Woods rode the New Shoes karma until the 14th, when he hit his tee shot into the rough, then his approach to the back of the green, and made a bogey. He got that shot back with a birdie on the par-5 16th and seemed to heave a sigh of relief as his tee shot to the infamous 17th just held up in the fringe at the back of the island green.
Woods parred his way in and heads into Saturday at 2-under, six strokes behind the trio of Zach Johnson, Kevin Na and Matt Kuchar. And suddenly, rather than questioning if he would make the cut, pundits wonder whether Woods will make a run at the title.
“I really played well today,” the golfer told reporters after carding a 4-under 68 -- two strokes over his target number of 66. “I was just very consistent and nothing spectacular. Just real solid golf ... I’m still there with a good chance.”
While Woods said he loved the challenge of the Pete Dye-designed course, one aspect of the event clearly irked him: those damned cell phones. “I backed off a couple of times [at 14],” he said. “I didn’t quite feel committed to my line, then I got committed, and a guy took a picture right there with his camera phone and I backed off again.”
His words sent the message that it was just the way things go, but his tight-lipped response said otherwise.
“It’s kind of the theme the last couple of days for all of us in our group, a lot of phones going off,” he said. “So [you get] used to it and we backed off, I got reset ... and just hung [the shot] a little bit.”
About the shoe, by the way, Woods said he “tore the eyelet” when he hit his tee shot at No. 5. “That’s the way it goes,” he said. “Had a backup pair, sent the right shoe out, and off we went.”
In the meantime, Woods’ playing partners were moving in opposite directions. Rickie Fowler’s 69 brought him to 3-under for the week, while Hunter Mahan looked completely out of sync both days and won’t be around for the weekend after finishing at 6-over -- six shots north of the even-par cut line.
Among the notables not making the cut was Rory McIlroy, who left the course with an 0-for-3 record at Sawgrass. The 2011 U.S. Open winner tweeted later on Friday that he hoped next year to “see the golf in person at the weekend, not just on TV!”
Missed cuts were not the only reason some golfers were gone before the final putt dropped on Friday. Officials disqualified D.J. Trahan for signing an incorrect scorecard, while six players withdrew with injuries and/or personal reasons (Angel Cabrera checked out after carding a nine on the par-3 17th on Thursday), and one (D.A. Points) recorded an official “Did Not Start.”
Speaking of Points, his fill-in, Brian Harman, made an 11-foot eagle putt on the second hole (his 11th hole of the day), and posted three birdies down the stretch to get into the clubhouse -- and the weekend -- at 3-under. Not too bad for someone who almost failed to grab a spot in the field.
After Points withdrew with back pain on Thursday, officials called Harman to the tee but the first alternate was unable to get to the starting line on time. Much discussion ensued among officials, who made an unusual ruling that had Harman teeing off as a solo before the afternoon group of players headed out.
Friday, Harman played with Bud Cauley and Ryan Moore after Paul Casey withdrew with a shoulder injury, which may be a flare-up of the dislocated shoulder he suffered while snowboarding last December. Harman fired a 68 and was darned pleased to be in the game, let alone in contention.
“For me, this is a major,” Harman told reporters Friday. “I feel like this is the fifth major and I wanted to be out there, just me and the golf course."