Early in his second round at the 2013 British Open, Tiger Woods hit, by his standards, a poor approach into one of Muirfield's increasingly treacherous greens. Woods chuckled and flashed a sarcastic, toothsome grin while the ball was in flight before blurting out, "aw, fffff..." as it landed.
Watching the coverage on television, viewers were unsure how that utterance finished, as ESPN's coverage quickly flashed away from the camera on Woods. The shot certainly was an "aw, fffff" moment for the world's top-ranked player, though it was one of just a few in his even-par round of 71.
At the time he finished his round, Woods was just three back of lead, with half the field still to play its second round of 18 holes at Muirfield. (Update: Woods now trails leader Miguel-Angel Jimenez by just one stroke going into Round 3.) It was a typical major championship grind for Woods, who may finally be showing signs of getting back to what typical, for him, used to be.
The conditions at Muirfield have been giving the players fits, from the change in wind direction—most players did not have a chance to practice with wind like they saw on Friday—to greens that are much faster than the players traditionally expect from an Open Championship, to rough that can reach up to the players' waists.
While many top players have expressed their displeasure and disbelief at the setup the first few days—with greens as burnt out as these, balls are routinely running out through the surface and into the rough or greenside bunkers—Woods has, at least publicly, kept his cool.
After his first round, playing in the more difficult conditions later in the day, Woods told reporters, " I can see how guys were complaining about it."
Notice how Woods said he can see how guys would complain, but he, himself, was not complaining.
To be fair, Woods did mention how difficult the putting has been, with shots sliding just by the cup and running clear through the back of the green. There wasn't, however, the same bewilderment or aggravation with the course from Woods as some of the other players.
Woods has, by all means, kept his composure through half the Open Championship, which certainly bodes well for the weekend.
He doesn't seem frustrated. He doesn't seem rattled by the course conditions, his play, or even his putting that, on three separate occasions on Friday, let him down and gave away at least three strokes.
Granted, watching a player's body language on the course and during a short post-round interview can only tell so much about a his chances, but if using those markers can allow for a peek inside Tiger's head after two rounds, the guy certainly looks ready to win another major.
It helps that Woods is in perfect position on the leaderboard heading into the weekend, too. Peter Alliss, who was sitting in with the ESPN crew as Woods finished his round, called the performance "class."
"He showed his class the last two days," Alliss offered. "He hasn't bitched and moaned like others have this week."
In fact, when he has bitched or moaned—like the "aw, fffff" moment early in the round—Woods was doing so at himself, not at the Muirfield conditions and setup by the R&A.
"It was hard," Woods told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi after his round on Friday. "The wind is obviously a totally different direction and starting to freshen up. The greens were totally different speeds. Uphill putts we never got to the hole, but the downhill putts were running out."
In written words, it may sound like a series of gripes not unlike the other players, but when you heard the comments, they sounded more explanatory—more matter-of-fact—than unnerved or frustrated.
After playing late on Thursday, Woods knew how much more difficult the course will get for the later players on Friday. He knows his play through the first two rounds has left him in a fantastic spot as he prepares for the weekend.
"I'm in a good spot. It will be interesting to see what they do [in the later groups on Friday]. We'll see what they do tomorrow."
By the sound of that, Woods was fully expecting to be in one of the final groups on Saturday, watching the field navigate the course in front of him. It's been quite some time since Woods has won a major—20 have been played since his last victory—but there's a hint after two rounds at Muirfield that we could be in store for another traditional Tiger Woods weekend at a major.
Tiger will be navigating Muirfield, while the rest of the field may be navigating the course…and Tiger.
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