June 19 — He’s baaaack. With fist pumps, wide smiles, a dead-on putter, and a blistering 3-wood to the 18th green, Tiger Woods fired a 5-under 66 Saturday at the US Open to charge up the leaderboard into third place.
A couple better. “I was just trying to get back to even par or one over for the championship,” Woods told NBC’s Jimmy Roberts after holing eight birdies on Saturday. “I happened to do a couple better than that.”
No kidding. Turned out the No. 1 golfer in the world wasn’t just blowing smoke Friday when he said he was still in contention and had to bide his time.
“I just kept telling myself it’s a process, you have to stay patient,” Woods repeated Saturday. “This is a long haul, the US Open. You have to just hang in there, and I did that.”
Back in championship form? Again, a major understatement for a guy who, at one point Saturday, was nine shots back and seemingly out of the hunt. But, after bogeying his first two holes, Woods went on a tear, posting a torrid 31 on the back nine, with birdies on his last three holes.
All is forgiven. Woods’ statement round included a cut 3-wood from 260 yards to the 18th green. He came up short on his eagle putt, but tapped in for birdie, and the bleacher creatures went wild.
What sex scandal?
Woods was his usual noncommittal self afterwards, sticking to his talking points, with perhaps one detour to let the field know he was back in the mix.
“You just have to keep plodding along,” Woods said. “At all the US Opens — all the ones that I’ve won — you have to have a nice little stretch of nine holes and I did that today.”
In reverse. Anyone else believe that “all the ones that I’ve won” comment was a jab at Mr. Runner-Up, Phil Mickelson? Phil “The Thrill” has finished second in five Opens, but he’ll have a lot of work to do Sunday to get to his usual position after putting it in reverse on moving day.
Mickelson also started his game with two bogeys and had another bogey and a double, along with two birdies, after 13 holes. At 2-over for the tourney, the 40-year-old was seven shots back of 36-hole leader Graeme McDowell, who was in a back-and-forth duel with Dustin Johnson for the top spot.
Mickelson got one back with a birdie on 16 to move to 1-over for the championship.
Short game maestro. Speaking of Johnson, who knew that the 25-year-old golfer Woods called “stupid long” had an exquisite short game to match?
Nowhere was his soft touch any more evident than on the par-3 seventh. While the 99-yard distance to the downhill peninsula green gave others fits all day, Johnson hit a lob wedge that spun back to tap-in distance for a birdie.
Indeed, Johnson, who defended his AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am title in February, has hit 12 percent more greens in regulation since he began working with Butch Harmon on his short game, according to Golf Digest’s Tim Rosaforte.
How ya like those greens now, Tiger? By the way, wonder if Tiger’s changed his tune about the greens at Pebble? Woods bad-mouthed the putting surfaces earlier in the week, which brought a public wrist-slap from David Fay, executive director of the USGA.
“He is entitled to his opinion, but he’s off on his facts,” Fay said. “These putting surfaces have never been better.”
Woods matched Mickelson for the low round for the Open. Read how Phil charged up the leaderboard on the second day of the championship.