DUBLIN, Ohio – Five months without competition, and Tiger Woods was grinding over key shots and big putts Friday at the Memorial. None was bigger than a 7-foot par putt on his final hole.
It kept him from going home.
Woods missed a pair of 3-foot putts early that shut down any momentum, twice missed the green with awkward chip shots in deep rough and had to finish birdie-birdie-par for a 4-over 76.
It was just enough to make the cut on the number at 3-over 147, his highest 36-hole score at Muirfield Village since his Memorial debut in 1997.
The Memorial, the Masters and the Arnold Palmer Invitational are the only tournaments he has played at least 15 times without failing to make the cut.
Woods said his back felt a little stiff while warming up and he couldn't move through his swing like he would have liked. He said it was a struggle on a warm, calm morning at Muirfield Village.
But when asked if it was enough to keep him from playing the rest of the week, Woods replied, “I would like to have the opportunity to play tomorrow.”
Woods was outside the cut when he finished, and he was helped by a pair of fellow Californians. Max Homa finished with two bogeys, and Bryson DeChambeau made a 10 on the par-5 15th hole, moving the cut to 3 over.
Ryan Palmer (68) and Tony Finau (69) managed just fine and were tied for the lead, leaving Woods 12 shots behind going into the weekend.
The finish at least gave him a chance.
Woods had to lay up from deep rough short of the water on the sixth hole — he started on the back nine — and missed a par putt just outside 5 feet to fall to 6 over for his round. He looked to be done. He wasn't moving well, the look of someone who would be heading home shortly.
But he found the fairway on the par-5 seventh and made birdie from a greenside bunker. Then, he rolled in 20-foot putt for birdie on the par-3 eighth. He found more trouble on the ninth, sending his tee shot to the right, in rough and blocked by trees, leaving his only option to chip out to the fairway.
From there, his wedge spun back to 7 feet below the hole and he made that par for to have hope.
“I finished birdie-birdie-par,” he said. “That's about the only positive to it today.”
He wasn't sure what to make about his back, which has undergone four surgeries, the last one to fuse his lower spine. He has recovered well enough to win three more times, including the Masters last year for his 15th major.
Woods last played Feb. 16 in the cold at Riviera, where he finished last in the Genesis Invitational with a 76-77 weekend. He attributed stiffness that week to the cold. As for Ohio in July?
Woods said he felt fine when he woke up, not so much while going through his practice sessions.
“It wasn't quite as good as I'd like, and it it what it is,” he said, adding later, “It's going to happen more times than not.”
What really irritated him was his putting. He three-putted from about 35 feet on the par-5 11th, missing a 3-footer for birdie. Two holes later, after a superb play from the rough to right side of the green, he rolled a fast putt to 3 feet and missed that par putt. And then when he chopped up the par-5 15th for bogey, the rest of the day became a battle.
From a fairway bunker right of the 17th fairway, he sent his shot high on the hill into rough so deep it took him a few minutes to find it. With the greens so brittle, he hit that through the putting surface into more rough, and he had to make an 8-foot putt to escape with bogey.
Making the turn, Woods had an awkward lie with his ball in the collar of a bunker. He caught all ball and sent that long, through the green and into a bunker, failed to get up-and-down and took double bogey.
His next shot sailed to the right toward a hazard, and Woods simply hung his head. He still managed to have enough left at the end to give him a chance.
Woods is a five-time winner of the Memorial, and his next victory would set the PGA Tour career record of 83. Also looming is the first major of the year at the PGA Championship in three weeks.
For a 44-year-old who won the first of his 82 tour titles at age 20, time isn't on his side.
“Aging is not fun,” he said. “Early on in my career, I thought it was fantastic because I was getting better and better and better. And now I'm just trying to hold on.”