Tiger Woods squeezed his jaw when the pain hit him.
He limped, sometimes using a stick-like driver, and pushed his reconstructed right leg through the hills and slopes of Southern Hills on Friday with a unique mission: to make it to the weekend in the PGA Championship.
And he did it. Woods’ shot in the second round 1-under 69 put him in a 3 over level championship run, one shot inside the cut-off line. He was in danger of losing the weekend before two sparrows mustered over the last six holes.
“You can’t win the championship if you miss the mowing. I won the championships — not the majors, but I won the championships on cut number,” Woods said after walking a few steps to the stage for his post-round interview.
“There is a reason why you should fight hard and be able to give yourself a shot at the weekend.” Few would consider this to be a realistic scenario in the way Woods would have to fight his body to get past a round. For 15 months, a car accident damaged his right leg so badly that doctors considered amputating it.
Woods returned to competition last month in the Masters Tournament. He made the cut there and performed over the weekend at the Augusta National in a glorious comeback in front of adoring galleries. He did not play again until he returned to the PGA, a tournament he won four times, most recently in 2007 at Southern Hills.
Fans pushed him into the PGA Championship again, even when he looked miserable. He opened with a 4-over 74. He said everything caused his leg injury that day before he left the course for a night of physical therapy and ice baths.
He’s recovered well enough to hold again on Friday, which impressed playing partner Rory McIlroy.
“Just incredibly resilient and mentally strong,” said McIlroy, who chatted with Woods frequently during Friday’s tour. “He feels it, he feels it in every swing. …Yeah, look, he’s the ultimate pro. Looking at him yesterday, if I were going to be, I would have thought of quitting and going home. But Tiger is different and he’s proven different. He was just Tremendous effort.” Woods did not think about leaving.
“Just the fact that I’m able to play golf again and play in our biggest tournaments,” said the 15-time champion. “I won’t play many tournaments in the future. It will be the biggest tournaments. I want to be able to play the major tournaments. I’ve always loved playing in them.” Even if it takes a full team effort to get him back on the cycle for four consecutive days.
“Fortunately, I am able to do that somehow,” Woods said. “I had a great (physiotherapist) crew who put Humpty-dumpty back together, and we’re going there tomorrow.” Woods closed a question on whether his leg was better or worse than on Thursday. By then, he had finished talking about it.
There will be challenges over the next couple of days.
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On the steep incline off tee #1 on Friday, Woods used his driver like a stick to smooth his way down the hill. The stairs from tee number 10 were also slow. A ball in a bunker can mean an awkward posture and unsteady feet.
But there are times when he can clear his mind of aches and pains.
A bird in No. 5 seemed to straighten out his gait in the next few holes until a three-hole ghost later made him flirt with the cut line again. On the ninth day, he squeezed his jaw before coming out from rough to hard green.
Real trouble came at number 11 when he missed the green well on the left, then hit his club in a chariot track in anger. A double bogey ensued and he was in danger of ending the week early.
Then the late rise came down. Woods finally got the cushion he needed with a birdie in 16th.
Woods finished the Masters with 78 straight runs. He left the South Hills on Friday hoping for a better finish in Tulsa if his leg allows.
“Coming back here to a place where you’ve been successful, and playing against the best players in the world, that’s what we all want to be able to do,” Woods said.