LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The 96th PGA Championship is only at the midway point, but its two weekend rounds will be lacking something. Tiger Woods won’t be around when the pursuit of front-running Rory McElroy resumes on Saturday.
Woods missed the cut after shooting his second straight 74 in Friday’s second round at Valhalla, and that could well mean the end to a dismal, injury-filled season for golf’s long-time No. 1 star. He still has a long way to go to recover from the back problems that bothered him all season and required surgery last spring. His 6-over-par 148 total at Valhalla was five strokes above the cut line to play the final 36 holes of the last major championship of 2014.
In pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major championships, Woods has been stuck at 14 since winning the 2008 U.S. Open. This PGA makes it 20 straight majors for Woods without a victory. Friday marked the third time in that stretch in which Woods missed the cut, and he didn’t play in six others because of injury.
Injury also played a part in his latest failure. Last week he withdrew after nine holes in the Bridgestone Invitational when he developed back spasms. His participation at Valhalla was in doubt until he showed up somewhat unexpectedly on Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s amazing Tiger was here,’’ said Pete Bevacqua, in his first year as executive director of the PGA of America. “We just wanted Tiger to do what’s best for his career and his health.’’
The only previous times that Woods missed the cut in a major championship were at the 1996 Masters, 2006 U.S. Open, 2009 British Open and 2011 PGA Championship.
Playing partner Padraig Harrington stated the obvious in saying “The man (Woods) looks like he needs to play some golf. He looked kind of raw.’’
Woods showed up here in an effort to prove to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson that he’s fit enough to play in next month’s matches vs. Europe in Scotland. Watson remained non-committal as Woods struggled through the second round.
“Tiger’s playing performance isn’t good right now,’’ said Watson, “but he is Tiger Woods.’’
Woods played on gamely, even though he was quickly too far behind to make the cut. At least he didn’t withdraw. This PGA has had an unusually high number (seven) after four players, most notably Boo Weekley and Angel Cabrera, dropped out with injuries in the course of play.
Watson is in a tough spot as he prepares a U.S. team that hopes to end the Europeans’ recent domination of the competition, the most recent proof having come in a victory at Medinah in September, 2012. In addition to Woods’ struggles two of the top U.S. players, Matt Kuchar (back spasms) and Jason Dufner (neck), are injured.
“No doubt the injuries concern me, but it’s too early to tell,’’ said Watson. Nine players on his 12-man roster will be finalized off a point race that ends after the last putt drops here on Sunday. Watson will name his three captain’s picks on Sept. 2, after the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Woods, because of his limited season, won’t qualify for the four-tournament postseason competition.
As for the PGA that’s in progress, Friday’s round was delayed 50 minutes by a heavy rain but McIlroy, in search of his fourth straight tournament victory, was ready as soon as it ended. He tacked a 4-under-par 67 to his opening 66 and is at 9-under-par 133 for the 36 holes and owns a one-stroke lead on Jason Day, who carded Friday’s best round – a 65. McIlroy and Day will be paired in the last group in the third round.
McIlroy’s driving carried him on Thursday and his short game was key on Friday.
“The conditions didn’t allow me to play the way I did yesterday,’’ said McIlroy. “I didn’t hit it quite as well, but I was able to get up and down a lot. It’s nice, knowing I can score in different ways if I need to.’’
McIlroy can do no wrong lately. He is 41-under-par in his last 10 competitive rounds, having gone 17-under in winning the British Open and 15-under in taking the Bridgestone Invitational.