Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy failed to recreate the drama of the first round at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.
After rolling back the years for a birdie-birdie-birdie finish to Thursday’s opening round, the late-early tee time schedule for rounds one and two meant that Woods’ physical condition would be under severe scrutiny when he took the course this morning.
But it wasn’t the long game that let him down in the early stages. Starting on the 10th hole, a lay-up iron and pin-point wedge to the back-left flag gave him a great opportunity to pick up where he left off yesterday evening, but a tentative stroke missed on the amateur side.
He’d miss again from half that distance for birdie on the par 5 11th, from 14 feet for par on the 12th, and a five-footer for par on the next, dropping Tiger back to level-par for the tournament.
As fragile as the putting stroke looked, the swing was free-flowing, and his tee-shot on the par 3 14th was just a couple of revolutions shy of dropping for an ace, leaving a welcome tap-in to get back to red figures.
After another short birdie miss on 16, after being forced to lay up a long way back at 17, he hit a towering 6-iron to tap in range to get back to level for the day.
Having gone bogey-free for his opening round, McIlroy’s streak ended on his opening hole, paying the penalty for an unfriendly bounce at the tricky 10th. A par-five at the 11th was a little disappointing, but he made up for that on the 12th, chipping in for birdie from just off the back of the green after a great recovery shot from a blocked-out position in the right-hand rough.
Another birdie at the next took him to -5, and he’d par his way through 18 to make the turn at -1 for the round.
The entire group were struggling to find any real spark, and both Woods and McIlroy carded five successive pars each to start their inward nines, including the par 5 first which traditionally plays as the easiest hole on the course.
McIlroy’s best chance during this stretch came at the third hole where, after a 388-yard drive, his lofted approach caught the hole but just didn’t drop for eagle, and the recently deposed world number one missed the six-footer coming back.
The good birdie looks had dried up for Tiger, but fortunately, the early putting jitters had subsided, and he cleaned up good saves at two, three and four, but things threatened to unravel at the par 3 sixth with the unusual feature of having a bunker in the centre of the green.
The 15-time major champion didn’t find it off the tee, but his approach was a little short and fed back down to the front of the green with the devilish sand trap directly between flag and ball. Tiger opted to putt, taking a line perilously close to the bunker’s edge and it turned out to be much too close, the ball cambering around the left edge before dropping into the bunker from the front lip.
He’d have to hole a five-foot birdie putt to remain under-par for the tournament and he did just that, but it was the kind of careless strategic mistake that you rarely see from a man of Woods’ guile.
Another bogey came on the 17th after his tee shot found the deep fairway bunker and he could only splash out, and hovering dangerously near the cutline, bogeyed the final hole after, much to his mystification, his approach came up short in the greenside bunker. That final bogey left him at +1 for the tournament, and he faced an anxious wait to see if the projected cut line held.
McIlroy would eventually bring the par streak to an end at the closing hole, sinking a 15-footer up the hill to mock exaltation, signalling that the Holywood man felt that it was a round that could – and should – have been so much better. Still, at -6 with what he’d probably describe as his B-minus game, he’s primed for a surge over the weekend.
“I did not putt well today,” a disappointed Woods said afterwards, “I blocked a lot of putts early and this is probably the highest score I could have shot today. Probably should have shot probably five or six better than this easily.”
Woods was also informed of the sad passing of long-time European Tour Rules Official John Paramour, and paid tribute to a person he’d known for a long time. “One of the all-time best rules officials,” he said “John was around when I first turned pro and had been a staple obviously on the European Tour and all the World Golf Championships, when he came over here and was a rules official. Just a great guy. I’m a little bit taken aback by that.”
Shane Lowry, meanwhile, was going along nicely. Costly, inopportune bogeys have been the story of Lowry’s season so far, but he was blemish-free through 15 holes, with birdies coming at the 11th (his second), the 12th and the 1st holes, which saw the Offaly man climb to -5, and inside the top five on the leaderboard.
More importantly, the putting woes that had plagued the early part of his year had been conspicuous by their absence.
A wayward tee shot on the seventh cost him his first bogey of the day, but he rebounded strongly and rolled in a 22-foot birdie putt on the next. Disappointingly, however, after giving himself a decent birdie chance on the last, an aggressive first putt ran almost five feet past, and he pushed the par putt to the right, costing him a closing bogey as he reached the clubhouse at -4.
Starting the day from level par, Seamus Power hovered around the provisional cut mark all day, with bogeys coming at 2, 8, 9 and 12, but these were offset by birdies at 6,7 and 12. Needing to finish strong to guarantee a weekend tee-time, Power then birdied the 16th and 17th holes, and closed with a par-four at the last to post -1, seeing the Waterford man safely inside the cut line.
Max Homa leads the field at halfway, the 2021 Genesis Invitational champion followed his opening 64 with a second-round 68 to lie -10, but briefly got to -11 with a birdie on the penultimate hole before falling back with a bogey at the last.
He leads the trio of Jon Rahm, Keith Mitchell and Lee Hodges by a single stroke. Rahm also bogeyed the last to drop from a hare of the lead, which he’d gained after an extremely fortuitous bounce from the 17th grandstand left him a short putt for eagle when he’d have faced an extremely testing chip otherwise.
The expected 36-hole cut mark of +1 held meaning Woods was through. The 83rd PGA Tour win that he was targeting now seemingly out of reach, exactly how his body stands up to the rigour of 72-holes of competitive stroke-play will be the primary concern for the tournament host.
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