Now comes the harder part for Tiger Woods. On Friday morning, I wrote that he would have the tournament lead going into the weekend. And Woods methodically chopped down the North Course on his way to a round of 65 and a two-shot lead at the midpoint of the 2013 Farmers Insurance Open.
But Woods has repeatedly had trouble holding leads and running away with it on the weekends since 2010. Before Y.E. Yang chased him down at the 2009 PGA Championship, Woods was a solid lock to win once he got the lead going into the weekend. Since then, however, Woods has continually stalled out during the final two rounds at both majors and regular tour stops. The last time he played in this event in 2011, he shot a combined 5-over during the last two rounds to fizzle out of contention.
Things seem to be different for Tiger this week, and he appears to be in complete control of his game, both off the tee and around the green. On Thursday at the South Course, it was his short game, particularly out of the sand, that paced him to an impressive 68 on the more difficult layout at Torrey Pines. On Friday, it was his work on the par-5s at the North Course that shot him up the leaderboard and to a multi-shot cushion after two rounds. He highlighted the opportunities of the par-5s after his round, stating, "I drove the ball great, and took advantage of the par-5s. That's basically where the round could be had."
The North Course is one of the easier tracks that the tour pros play all year, and through some rainy conditions, Woods took aim at a low number from the start. On his first par-5 of the day, No. 14, Woods hit a perfect chip shot from just off the green to within a couple feet for an easy birdie. It was his first of the day, but the round really took off on the next par 5 as he made the turn at 18. With the ball in the rough and below his feet, Woods ripped his second shot out and onto the green within five feet of the cup. He drilled the eagle putt for his third red number of the day and he was off and running.
On the North Course, the first hole is also a par-5, and with the momentum from No. 18, Woods took the tee and bombed it down the middle of the fairway, nearly 30 yards past his playing partners Rickie Fowler and Nick Watney. He followed that with what was likely his worst approach shot of the day, but the ball still found the right edge of the green and he two-putted for his birdie. On the fourth and final par-5 of the day at No. 9, Woods would get another birdie. It was another crushed drive, but this time, he faded a laser with his five-wood from 250 yards into the front of the green. With the ball below the cup, he would easily two-putt up the for birdie, responding from his only bogey of the day on the previous hole.
It was a nice clean round for Woods, who had just one bogey to keep all his work on the par-5s intact. He played those four holes at 5-under on the day, and is 9-under on the par-5s through his first two rounds, the highest total in the field. He talked about how his work off the tee set him up on Friday. "On the North Course, you drive the ball well, you're probably going to have four iron shots into the par-5s," he said. "You sprinkle that in with four of five wedge shots in there, a round of six or seven under par is definitely conceivable." On Friday, the par-5s created a huge advantage, and it was something reminiscent of the old Tiger.
But can he keep up the momentum through the weekend and put a stranglehold on the rest of the leaderboard? The seven players within three shots of Woods aren't exactly the biggest names on Tour, with a combined zero wins. Woods' biggest contenders have all fallen off. Bubba Watson withdrew before the tournament started, Brandt Snedeker stalled out on Friday and fell back from the lead, and Phil Mickelson continued to putz around, just making the cut.
So at the halfway point, it's basically Woods all alone on the first page of the leaderboard. Amazingly, it's only his second 36-hole lead at this event, which he has won six times. He'll draw on that history and his comfort with the layout, to try and finish things out on the South Course, where he has a 68.75 scoring average throughout his career. With the way his short game has looked, and his dominance on the par-5s, the weekend troubles of 2012 will likely be a thing of the past as Tiger closes in on win No. 75.