Published August 25, 2012
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – For all the disappointment and frustration Nick Watney has felt this year, he realizes that one week can change everything.
He only needs to look at the guy playing with him Saturday at The Barclays to realize that.
Sergio Garcia was spinning his wheels only two weeks ago, without a win on the PGA Tour for four years and trying to make the Ryder Cup team. Using a local club caddie in North Carolina, the Spaniard won the Wyndham Championship and his outlook has never been better.
Garcia found another caddie for this week at Bethpage Black — Wayne Richardson, who works as a spotter for CBS Sports — and rolled to a 3-under 68 on Friday to share the lead with Watney (67) going into the weekend at the first FedEx Cup playoffs event. They were at 8-under 134.
Does another win for Garcia loom? Or is it Watney's turn?
"It's not been the season I would have hoped for so far," Watney said. "But in golf, one week can change that. It's funny how that happens, maybe unlike any other sport. If a football team is struggling, they win one game, it's not really a success. But in golf if you're struggling, you win one tournament, all of a sudden ...
"I don't know how Sergio was playing, but he wins last week and he's right up there again this week."
Only two years ago, Garcia moaned that he was not happy on the golf course. These days, he is smiling broadly.
"Golf is a funny game," Garcia said. "When you think that you have it under control, it kicks you down. And then all of a sudden, it gives you something to love it again."
Funny game, indeed.
There was nothing funny for Tiger Woods, except when he turned to caddie Joe LaCava and mentioned that he felt like Fred Couples.
LaCava spent two decades working for Couples, whose career was plagued by back injuries. In fact, Couples withdrew from a Champions Tour event in Seattle on Friday with yet another episode with his back.
It wasn't nearly that bad for Woods, though it was a real pain.
He woke up Friday morning with a twinge in his lower back. He tried to warm up on the range and it didn't get any better. Starting the second round with back-to-back bogeys didn't help, and Woods spent the next four hours wincing, grimacing, limping — and holing just enough putts for a 2-under 69 that left him only three shots behind.
"Must have slept funny on it," Woods said. "Soft beds at the hotel, and woke up this morning with it stiff. As I warmed up, it got progressively worse, and then you saw what happened on the golf course. It hurt all day."
Bethpage Black has a way of inflicting its own kind of pain.
Padraig Harrington, the first-round leader after a 64, bogeyed his first three holes and stumbled to a 75. He was five shots behind, still in range and still with hopes that a win could get him on the Ryder Cup team. Even so, it was an 11-shot difference, and he's looking for a little stability.
Rory McIlroy, playing with Woods, had four bogeys in his opening eight holes, including three in a row, one of them a par 5. That put him over the cut line in his first event since winning the PGA Championship, but the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland rebounded with three birdies over the next five holes and salvaged a 73. He was eight shots out of the lead, not in ideal shape but not out of it yet. Phil Mickelson was five shot out of the lead until he bogeyed his last three holes and found himself eight behind.
Vijay Singh (67) and Bob Estes (66) were one shot out of the lead, followed by John Senden (68) and Pat Perez (70).
"I think I'm playing as good as I did in any part of my career," Singh said. "I'm hitting the ball as long. I'm hitting the ball straighter. I feel a lot of confidence in me. It's just I need to get some kind of momentum going. I thought I had it at the PGA, but I kind of let it slip there on Sunday. But it's all about how you're hitting it, and right now I'm striking the ball good. My distance is back, and I'm literally pain-free, which makes a whole lot of difference."
Woods was anything but pain-free Friday.
It became evident in the middle of the back nine, especially stooping over so carefully to pluck the ball out of the cup that it looked like he was doing a curtsey. The worst of it came on the par-5 13th, when he drove into a fairway bunker. Walking down the slope, he lost his footing, both feet landed in the sand with a thud. He stooped over to catch his breath, blasted out and eventually had to play a nifty pitch-and-run from the back slope of a cross bunker to save his par.
"It was like a section of movement, so it didn't hurt standing up, it didn't hurt at the bottom of a squat, but it was the somewhere-in-between-there it was going to catch. It would grab just before impact, so you'd kind of expect, it, so I could get through that," Woods said.
It's not the first time he has tweaked his back, so he knew how to get by.
Woods headed for the fitness trailer when he finished and said he would be fine on Saturday. As for the bed?
"I'm probably going to sleep on the floor," he said. "I do that in Europe all the time, so this is nothing new."
The cut was at 1-over 143. Because only the top 100 in the FedEx Cup standings advance to the second tournament outside Boston, that ended the playoff hopes of Robert Allenby, Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and Heath Slocum, who all missed the cut.
Garcia is miles away from thinking about cut lines. He won in back-to-back weeks last year in Europe, and now is starting to believe he can do it again on the PGA Tour.
By playing — and winning — last week at the Wyndham Championship, and now getting closer to a spot in the Tour Championship, Garcia has decided to skip next week's playoff event in the Deutsche Bank Championship. Otherwise, it would six straight tournaments, a week off, and then possibly the Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup.
"Everybody knows how important the Ryder Cup is for me," he said. "And I want to be fully fit there."