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DUBLIN, Ohio – Tiger Woods needed to be at his best at Muirfield Village, a position he had been in so many times before at the Memorial Except this wasn't Sunday with a trophy on the line and host Jack Nicklaus waiting behind the 18th green This was Friday.
Woods was trying to avoid a bogey-bogey-bogey finish and miss the cut. He popped up a 3-wood off the tee, hacked out of the rough to 40 yards short of the green, and pitched it to 6 feet below the hole. Woods made the putt for a 70 and a sigh of relief.
That's where his game is right now.
He talks about wanting to contend. Instead, the last two times on the PGA Tour he has talked about a clutch putt that only gave him a chance to play on the weekend. Woods was 11 shots behind David Lingmerth, who had far less stress in a 7-under 65.
"At least I was able to make those putts, so that's a positive sign," Woods said. "Now I just need to put myself in the position where those putts are to win tournaments, not to make cuts."
That could be awhile.
Woods showed signs early when he opened with three birdies in four holes, making putts of 35 feet, 15 feet and 20 feet (with an 8-foot par save on the other hole). Good putting disguised plenty of weaknesses as he continues to work through another swing change.
He made an 18-foot birdie putt on the dangerous par-3 12th hole, and he rolled in a 30-foot putt from just off the 14th green.
And then it changed.
Woods blistered a drive down the middle of the fairway and hit 5-wood that appeared to be pin-high. "Bite! Bite!" he screamed at it, and sure enough, it rolled just off the side of the green and into the rough that left him little hope but to hit a flop shot that rolled out 12 feet by the hole. A sure birdie turned into par.
Woods made bogey on the 16th with a tee shot over the green. He drove just left of the fairway on the 17th into a deep patch of rough and had to pitch out, and then from 100 yards could do no better than 30 feet below the pin, leading to another bogey.
But he saved his par, saved his day.
That's two straight tournaments that he made a putt on the last hole just to make the cut. It was a 10-foot birdie at The Players Championship, a 6-foot par at Memorial. Asked what he needed to do to start contending, Woods said, "Play more tournaments."
That's been his answer to a lot of questions about his game.
Woods took two months off early in the year when his game reached a low point, although that only cost him three tournaments. He chose not to play either even in Texas, though he now plays every other week through the PGA Championship.
"We're making progress," he said. "Progress, however slow, is still progress, and I'm creeping up on it. But I need to put a few more pieces together to really, really get it going."
All he cared about Friday night was getting something to eat. He had an early start on Saturday and for the second straight tournament, he would be finished before the leaders even showed up to eat lunch.
Lingmerth has made 14 birdies and no bogeys over his last 34 holes to reach 12-under 132. He had a one-shot lead over Jason Dufner, who had a wild day. He made a 5 on a par 3, a 3 on a par 5 and then a hole-in-one.
During one stretch, he went birdie-eagle-eagle, followed by a bogey. It added up to a 67, putting him in the final group with Lingmerth.
Ryan Moore, gearing up for a U.S. Open near his hometown outside Tacoma, Washington, had another 67 and was at 10-under 134, along with Andy Sullivan of England, who can earn a spot at Chambers Bay with a good week at the Memorial.
A trio of past champions — Hideki Matsuyama, Jim Furyk and Justin Rose — were in the group that was three shots behind. Joining them was Patrick Rodgers, who made eight birdies in a round of 66 and is poised to at least secure temporary membership on the PGA Tour.
Muirfield Village was receptive, and it showed in the scoring. The cut was at 1-under 143, the lowest in Memorial history.