Tuesday 20 March 2018

Relieved Tiger digs deep to make cut

Tiger Woods plays his shot from a bunker to the 14th green during the second round of The Players Championship at Sawgrass
Tiger Woods plays his shot from a bunker to the 14th green during the second round of The Players Championship at Sawgrass

Jamie Corrigan

Rory McIlroy's stealthy but steady climb up the leaderboard at the Player's Championship at TPC Sawgrass left him four shots behind overnight leaders Kevin Na and Jerry Kelly and well on course to challenge for the so-called 'Fifth Major.'

Na, born in South Korea, has lived in the USA since he was eight years old and is an American citizen. He took over as tournament leader from first-round leader Hideki Matsuyama of Japan with a 69 for an eight-under par total early in the day and the chase started from there. He was only jonied late in the day when veteran Kelly produced a superb second round 65.

McIlroy began his second round five adrift of Na's clubhouse score. The World number one never hit his sparkling best form but on this course, the primary requirement is staying patient.

McIlroy got to within three of Na on five-under after 15 holes, but found water on the long 16th and his par attempt just slid by the hole to drop him back to four under.

On the infamous 17th, which played 146 yards, McIlroy struck a pitching wedge onto the island green, 12 feet away from the cup. This was another birdie chance that eluded him.

Heavy rain began to fall as he made his way up the 18th, but he ignored the conditions and fired a beautifully struck 5-iron from 190 yards onto the putting surface.

His birdie chance looked good but ebbed away from the target in the final inches and McIlroy had to be satisfied with a par four to finish.

Graeme McDowell finished strongly for 70 to safely make the cut at one-under par 143.

McDowell knuckled down to the task of recovering from a poor start with two bogeys after three holes.

Successive birdies on the short eighth and par-5 ninth raised his spirits, and there was a renewed zest in his stride.

McDowell's super birdie three on number 12, and another birdie on the 16th gave him some breathing space.

Padraig Harrington also stuck gamely to the task and carded 73 for and to get in for the weekend on the even par cut mark of 144 .

On the wrong side of the cut, however, was Shane Lowry after following up his first round 73 with a disappointing 74.

Tiger Woods captured the early attention as he, too, did all he could to avoid an early return home.

It says something about his change in fortunes when the player who once made 142 cuts in a row is punching the air in celebration at surviving into the weekend. But that is where Woods is at the moment.

In fairness, it was a very gutsy birdie on his final hole - the ninth - which took him back to level par and inside the cut line.

A wedge from 103 yards to nine feet and a putt into the hole. Cue the Tiger roar.

"It felt good," Woods said following his 71. "I knew after I bogeyed seven that the number was probably going to be even.

"We knew that I needed to make birdie on one of the last two holes and I did. I hit a good putt on eight; thought I made that one.

"Then the last hole, I hit a really good putt there, too. But I haven't got anything out of my rounds, that's the thing. I should be a few under par each day, and I'm just not capitalising on my opportunities. I need to start doing that."

'Inconsistent' did not begin to describe it, and nor did the bare figures of six birdies and five bogeys.

There was the woefulness of a drive into the trees on the first hole (his 10th) which went all of 172 yards.

And then there was the wonder of his recovery shot on the seventh (his 16th).

Buried deep in the rough on a big downslope to the right of the green, Woods audaciously flopped it on to the green.

The old Woods would have made the 10-footer for par, but however optimistic his mood, this is not the old Woods.

But then, we should not expect it to be, not after the back operation of last year, yet another swing change and the chipping yips which caused him to shoot a career-high 82 in Phoenix in February.

Having finished in the top 20 at the Masters, this is the first time Woods has made two consecutive cuts since 2013. This is progress.

"Obviously I need tournament golf," Woods said. "My game is finally at a point where I can play tournament golf on a consistent basis. That wasn't the case early in the year - it wasn't very good.

"But I worked my butt off to change it, and I'm pretty proud of that, to be able to show up at Augusta and do what I did, and now I've just got to keep building from there."

Woods's long-time nemesis, Phil Mickelson, missed his third Players cut in succession after a 76 took the 2007 champion to five over. "I was walking around here today thinking 'I can't believe I actually won here', he said.

Meanwhile, Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen led by a shot on nine under par from Sweden's Pelle Edberg in the AfraAsia Bank Mauritius Open.

Kevin Phelan, the only Irish player in the tournament, shot 73 for a one-under-par 141 total.

On the Challenge Tour, Ruaidhri McGee was the sole Irish representative to make the cut in the Turkish Airlines Challenge at Gloria GC. McGee made it on level par.

The Players Championship,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.0pm

AfraAsia Bank Mauritius Open

Live, Sky Sports 4, 9.0am

Indo Sport

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