It was Padraig Harrington who posed the question: “You would think that Tiger Woods would lose a bit of motivation in these things by now, wouldn’t you?” However, after having won 11 World Golf Championship events in the past, the World Number One showed absolutely no sign of letting up when he cruised into a commanding lead at the halfway stage of the WGC – American Express Championship at The Grove.
The 30 year old American, who set a new course record 63 in the opening round, was almost as impressive in tougher second day conditions at the Hertfordshire venue, a flawless 64 which featured five birdies and an eagle seeing him comfortably in pole position at 15 under par 127, five shots clear of the field.
Nearest challengers are two of his Ryder Cup colleagues Stewart Cink (67) and Jim Furyk (65) alongside one of the men who faced him at The K Club last week, England’s David Howell (66), who all shared second place on ten under par 132. Harrington, who had shared second place after the first round, dropped back to fifth on nine under par 133 after a 69.
“I’m off to a good start so far but again we’re only at the halfway point,” said Woods. “On top of that, with the conditions the way they are and the greens as smooth and soft as they are, you are going to have to keep making birdies.”
As for his superb record in the WGC genre, Woods explained his rationale. “It’s basically very similar to Major Championships,” he said. “Granted they’re not full fields but that is one of the reasons they started them so the guys would play a few more together. It is always good to play against the best players in the world.”
In the first round, it took an eagle three at the 18th hole to vault Woods into the lead and once again the 12 time Major winner grabbed the opportunity offered by the 567 yard hole, firing a sublime second shot to ten feet before holing for another eagle three.
On Thursday it had been the perfect ending to his day but in the second round it provided the catalyst for Woods to power in front, the World Number One going on to birdie four holes out of five from the second to exert his authority on the rest of the field and the tournament in general.
Separating the two Americans in a share of second, Howell admitted he was more than pleased with his second 66 of the week which, apart from keeping him in the hunt for the title, also keeps him on track to regain top spot on The European Tour Order of Merit, especially considering the man currently in the box seat, compatriot Paul Casey, is currently second last in the now 60-man field.
“It is a big weekend for me as Paul seems to be struggling,” he admitted. “He’s had some big weeks recently and maybe this was one too many. But it is up to me to put in a strong week and try and catch him. If I can win this week, then the Order of Merit is certainly my goal.”
Another man still harbouring outside hopes of winning the Order of Merit himself is Harrington and the Irishman could have featured in the group on ten under par but for a disappointing ending to his second round, missing the green at the ninth and taking bogey five, the first five on his card in two days of golf.
“I suppose it is now in his (Woods’) own hands,” he said. “But I’m not going to go out there and play for second. At the end of the day if I was playing for 50th place I’d be trying just as hard so I’m going to try and shoot the lowest score I can on the weekend and try to be aggressive.
“I felt today, especially early on, I lost a bit of patience. I felt I was hitting nice shots but maybe I was just a little too safe and I feel I’ve got to take advantage of it when I’m swinging it well to go after a few more pins.”