Tiger Woods has had his moments of brilliance during his return to the US PGA Tour, like on the weekend at the Valspar Championship or on Sunday at Bay Hill (before the 16th hole). Other than that though, many of his rounds have been a grind, not only for him but for those watching each and every shot. Friday’s two-over 73 at the Wells Fargo Championship would fall in that category, but it was enough to make the cut, and it ended with his only birdie of the day on the par-4 ninth at Quail Hollow.
“I’m on a hot streak right now, I made the last putt,” Woods said jokingly after a long day that included several missed opportunities on the greens. Despite ranking in the top 10 in both strokes-gained/approach-the-green and tee-to-green, Woods finds himself at two-over 144 heading to the weekend, nine shots back of leader Peter Malnati. Ranking 143rd in the field in strokes-gained/putting has contributed heavily to his current standing.
“I’ve struggled, struggled with the greens being as slow as they are, and today I tried to make sure I hit the putts harder and I just kept pulling them,” he said. “My feels just aren’t matching up with the speed of these greens, and I’ve got to do some more work. I’ve had ample time to make the adjustments to hit the putts that much harder, and I’m just struggling hitting them that hard.”
It hasn’t been an ideal return to Quail Hollow for Woods, who won here in 2007, but considering his last two results in the event, missed cuts in both 2010 and 2012, making the cut is one positive he can take from the week.
“I’ve hit it good enough to be right next to that lead,” he said. “If I just putt normal I’m right there. I’m hitting it fine and I just need to make some putts and hopefully this weekend I’ll be hitting it the way I’ve been hitting it and get a hot putter on the weekend. You never know.”
Woods will need to play lights out to close the nine-shot gap between he and Malnati, who carded a three-under 68 to get to seven-under 135. The 2015 Sanderson Farms winner has struggled this season, making just seven of 17 cuts and failing to register a top-25 finish. But in early April, after Malnati missed the weekend at the Houston Open, he tweeted “turned a corner” and that he felt good about his game. While he went on to finish T-67 at the RBC Heritage and T-64 at the Valero, this week’s performance so far suggests he was on to something.
One back at six-under 136 are PGA Tour rookie Aaron Wise and Australia’s Jason Day, who posted a four-under 67 that featured a hole-out for eagle from a greenside bunker at the par-5 10th. It’s Day’s second start since the Masters – he tied for 34th with Ryan Ruffels at the Zurich Classic – while Wise is playing in his 17th event this year and looking to top his best finish of T-13 at the RSM Classic.
Paul Casey and Charl Schwartzel are at five-under 137, while Johnson Wagner is alone in sixth at four-under 138. Rickie Fowler, the 2012 Wells Fargo winner, is six back at one-under 141.