COMMENTARY | Tiger Woods found himself in an enviable position midway through Friday at the Open Championship: sitting in the clubhouse.
Woods carded an anything-but-easy even-par round of 71 to hold steady at 2-under-par for the championship, just one shot back of Miguel Angel Jimenez's 36-hole pace.
Being near the lead following 36 holes of a major championship is nothing new for Woods, even in this, the second act of his career. Over the course of the last six major championships, Tiger has played the first 36 holes in 11-under par, while crumbling on the weekend, shooting a full 30 shots worse on Saturday and Sunday.
Widely considered the best closer in the game, if not all sports, Woods is clinical in his closing out of tournaments when he holds a 54-hole lead. Up to his point in his career, Tiger has held at least a share of the 54-hole lead 56 times. Fifty-two of those times, Woods was holding up the trophy at the end of the week.
In all 14 of his major victories, Woods has been inside the top 5 through 36 holes. It would appear there actually is a method to Woods' madness, namely get near the top of the leaderboard before the cut, get a piece of the lead on moving day and fend off challengers on Sunday.
The blueprint, tried and true as it is, is simply that. The onus will be on Tiger to play to that script on Saturday, something he's been unable to do in the last few years. His third-round scoring average in the last six majors is 72.8 and he hasn't been able to break 70 on a moving day in a major since the 2010 US Open.
Can the 2013 Open Championship break the recent skid Woods has been on? Is there something Tiger fans can latch on to that would let them know that their man is going to play better this weekend? There are a few beacons shining from windswept Muirfield.
First of all, he's keeping his ball in the short grass, tied for seventh in fairways hit; he's taking advantage of opportunities, ranked ninth in the field in birdies; and he's playing the four par-3s in 1-under-par, which is tied for fifth-best in the field. Combine those with 18 one-putts, tied for best in the field this week, along with being the fourth-best on the PGA Tour in strokes gained -- putting, and Woods has all the statistical ammunition he needs to win this championship.
Unfortunately, for Woods, stats won't capture his 15th major championship and first in six years. Continued good play can.
"(I need to) just continue plodding along, just continue just being patient, putting the ball in the right spots," Woods said of what he'll have to do this weekend to win. "We're not going to get a lot of opportunities out there, but when I have, I've been able to capitalize, and hopefully I can continue doing that."
Woods' late-early draw seemed to have a slight advantage over the early-laters, but all draw advantages are wiped clean come Saturday morning. The leaders will be playing under the same conditions, which are again expected to be difficult.
Through two rounds, the field has played Muirfield in multiple wind conditions. On Thursday, players played in a prevailing westerly wind that garnered a scoring average of 74.63, but Friday's easterly wind proved to be more of a problem, playing to an average of 75.37.
There is no doubt Woods is ready to win another major and he has a successful pattern in place for which to accomplish that feat. Will he be able to execute that game plan under the pressure of a major championship weekend is the question that needs to be answered.
We'll get that answer on Saturday when he tees it up with Lee Westwood in the second-to-last pairing.
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple outlets including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com, The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer and The Clermont (OH) Sun.
Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
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