There is a limit to Tiger Woods’ ability to work miracles. Somewhere. It has to be, doesn’t it?
Woods will not win the PGA Championship. He may never win another tournament. But he stays in the fight long after so many others have quit.
Fifteen months after a devastating car accident that almost took his leg, six weeks after his return to competitive golf in Augusta, a day after a round at the PGA Championship that started hot but faltered late, Woods fought his way through one the tougher rounds of his career to spare the one-hit cut.
Hitting the cut line with seven difficult-to-play holes, a visibly distressed Woods carved the final stretch of Southern Hills, playing the final stretch at -2 to give himself breathing room – and some extra rest – before heading into the weekend went.
“I’ve won tournaments — not major championships, but I’ve won tournaments with the cut number,” Woods said. “There’s a reason you fight hard and can give yourself a chance at the weekend. You just never know when you might get hot.”
Throughout Woods’ career, through swing changes and caddy changes, trophies and scandals, his tenacity has remained consistent. He just doesn’t give up in the face of injury, struggling with ailments and ailments that would have ended other players’ tournaments – or careers. From the 2008 US Open, which he won with a broken leg, to the 2019 Masters, which he won after undergoing multiple knee and back surgeries, to this week, Woods has always displayed a monomaniacal determination to pursue his career on his own terms.
“I won’t be playing a lot of tournaments going forward,” Woods said. “These are going to be the biggest tournaments. I want to be able to play the big championships. I’ve always loved playing there.”
Playing alongside Rory McIlroy, who saw his lead slip away on Thursday, and Jordan Spieth, who was struggling to find any form, Woods fought his own private battles late Friday afternoon. He played with no margin for error and grimaced all afternoon, especially late in the round as he approached the toughest holes on the course.
The turning point for Woods came after the 11th, where he doubled the short par 3 to drop to +5, one above the cut line with just seven holes left. But the next three holes were a masterclass in strategic, nervous golf — Woods rolled in two over 14-foot putts to save pars on 12s and 14s, and capitalized on the final par 5 on the course, the 13th to gain a punch and come back to the high side of the cut line.
Woods overcooked his approach on the 15th, landing in one of Southern Hills’ treacherous, gritty bunkers. But again, Woods found a touch that so many other players have been missing in the bunkers, flicking the approach to within a yard of the hole. A hole later, he revealed his best iron shot of the week, dropping his approach to within four feet of the cup for a birdie attempt. He deflated with authority and gave himself a one-shot pillow that went in the last two holes.
On the 17th, Woods wobbled again on the approach, flew over the green and landed on the edge. But once again, Woods threw himself out of real trouble and rolled over in a knee knock on a par putt, then clenched his jaw in pain as he left the green.
That left him with just one hole left and he made the 18th – one of the toughest on the entire course – look routine with an easy drive approach two putt. He left the track tired but satisfied. The mountains he conquers may not be as high today, but he still drives forward, step by step.
“Coming back here, to a place where I was successful, to play against the best players in the world, that’s what we all want to be able to do,” said Woods, who won the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills. “Fortunately, I can somehow. I had great PT staff putting Humpty-Dumpty back together.”
“He’s the ultimate pro,” McIlroy said. “If that had been me, I would have thought about retiring and just going home, but Tiger is different and he’s proven he’s different… It was just a monumental effort.”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @jaybusbee or contact him at [email protected].