Friday, 19 March 2010

Tiger Woods moved into the lead at the halfway stage of the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational, but all the talk at the Firestone Country Club centred around a truly bizarre ending to the World Number One’s second round at the Akron course.

The bare statistics show that the winner of last week’s US PGA Championship bogeyed his final hole – the ninth - for a 64 and a nine under par total of 131 to lead by one shot from his fellow countryman Davis Love III. However, they do little or no justice to the drama which actually unfolded.

In the rough to the right of the fairway after a wayward tee shot, Woods attempted to hook his nine iron second shot up and over the trees. He succeeded in that quest but a little too well as the ball flew over the putting surface and bounced on the tarmac path behind the green before careering up onto the roof of the clubhouse.

Everyone, including the television commentators, assumed Woods’ ball was out of bounds meaning he would have to return to where he played his second shot and play another ball. But as a plethora of rules officials gathered behind the green and on the steps of the clubhouse, it quickly became evident it was not quite that simple.

John Paramor, Chief Referee of The European Tour and on site in Akron, although not personally involved in the ruling itself, explained what had happened.

“The only area that is out of bounds at Firestone is the driving range which is down to the right of the clubhouse itself,” he said. “Therefore Tiger’s ball was not out of bounds and was traced by US PGA Tour official Dillard Pruitt as having come to rest at the far side of the clubhouse itself.”

Paramor went on to explain that between where the ball came to rest and the hole was a grandstand and so, as a temporary immovable obstruction, he was given relief from that. It was approximately 97 yards from where the ball came to rest to the hole and so Woods walked round in an arc at that distance to find a suitable area to drop the ball from where he pitched onto the green and two putted for bogey five.

Although delighted to have escaped with a bogey five when a double bogey seven seemed on the cards, Woods admitted he was still a little bemused at what had unfolded. “I have been in some strange situations before but that was the crème de la crème,” he said. “I still don’t know how it (his ball) wasn’t out of bounds.”

It was a pity the World Number One’s round ended in such a fashion for it detracted from what had been, up to then, a truly sensational effort. Only five days after claiming his 12th Major Championship, Woods showed his appetite for success was still as strong as ever when he opened his second round with four straight birdies from the tenth to the 13th.

Turning for home, the opening to his front nine was almost as impressive, with birdies at the first, second and fourth holes. All other ten holes were covered in par figures, before the drama unfolded at the ninth.

Second placed Love III produced some excellent golf – albeit too late to force his way into Tom Lehman’s US Ryder Cup Team – to post a fine 65 to move to eight under par 132 while Adam Scott, the first round leader after his sparkling 63, continued to spearhead The European Tour challenge, although his second round 71 dropped him back into a share of third place on six under par 134 with American Jim Furyk, who matched Love’s 65.

European Tour interest was maintained amongst the upper echelons of the leaderboard by South Africa’s Ernie Els and America’s Kevin Stadler, who shared fifth place on five under par 135 with Lucas Glover, while England’s Luke Donald held sole possession of eighth place on four under par 136 after his second round 69.

Two shots behind the Englishman in a share of 11th place was Spain’s José Maria Olazábal, for whom a good week could go a long way to cementing his seventh Ryder Cup appearance. Currently in the tenth and final automatic counting spot, should the two time Masters Champion finish prominently, he could move into the top five by elevating himself into the top five on the Ryder Cup World Points List.

However, all that depends, obviously, on the performances of others. It promises to be an intriguing weekend’s action.

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