They’ve been typecast in their roles and they acted them out perfectly in the second round of the Chevron World Challenge.
Take Tiger Woods, who is now 10 under par for the 10 par fives he’s played following a second round 66 that gave him a four stroke lead over Graeme McDowell on 13 under par at halfway.
The ultimate golfing machine for most of his career, Woods showed signs that he is close to returning to top form as he carded an eagle and four birdies in an impressive display that bodes well for 2011.
Playing partner McIlroy hit the ball better than Woods for most of the day but made too many errors around the greens and finished 6-2-6 after a series of short game disasters to slip five shots behind Woods and into a share of third place with Luke Donald after a 70 that should have been a 65.
“Flattered to deceive” is a phrase that’s been used too often in connection with the 21-year old Ulsterman. But he will have walked away a disappointed young man last night after squandering several shots around the greens at Sherwood Country Club.
At the par-five 16th, the world No 10 hit a glorious wood just a few feet through the back of the green but then thinned a straightforward looking chip well past the pin and down a slope. A man with an older head on his shoulders would not compound the error but McIlroy raced the birdie attempt three feet past and watched in horror as his par putt did a lap of honour around the lip and stayed above ground. Bogey.
To his credit, he hit back with a trademark birdie two at the 17th but then pulled his approach through the 18th, clumsily pinged a tricky flop shot over the green and took three more to get down from there. Double bogey six.
The day McIlroy finds a consistent short touch to match his long game prowess is the day the rest will be playing for second place. And if he’s looking for a role model, he need look no further than McDowell, who gets the most out of his score more often than not.
Tied with McIlroy, a shot behind Woods starting the day, the US Open champion birdied three of his first six holes to keep the tournament host in his sights. He appeared to hit the wall with a bogey at the seventh and a double bogey six at the ninth, where he four-putted from just short of the green.
But McDowell is one of the greatest battlers on tour and while he bogeyed the last for the second day in a row after bunkering his approach, he birdied the 10th and 11th, bogeyed the 12th and then birdied the 13th, 14th and 16th to card a 69 and emerge as Woods’ nearest rival on nine under par.
“Not my best ball-striking day today,” McDowell said. “Played great yesterday, had it on a string, and today I wasn’t quite sure where it was going to go. But hung tough, and sometimes in sort of a four-round tournament you get a round where you don’t really play your best. To shoot 3-under and not play my best, I’m pretty happy with that.”
Anyone who still believes that Woods had it in for McIlroy at the Ryder Cup had only to watch them in action yesterday. They appear to thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, as the older man pointed out after their round.
“It was fun. I enjoy playing with Rory,” Woods said. “He’s a great kid. We were chatting about just all different types of subjects. You know, he’s one of the best players in the world.
“He’s got so much talent. It’s just fun to watch, and unfortunately he made a mistake on the last hole, but I would love to play with him again.”
McIlroy was asked if he’d like to play Woods at Celtic Manor and replied that he, or any of his team mates would fancy their chances against the then No 1.
A lot was made of his comments. Too much, in McIlroy’s opinion.
“I’ve always got along good with Tiger,” he said.” It was just one of those things where I was asked, would you like to play on the Ryder Cup. Of course I would; I feel as if I’m playing well. I’d still say the same thing.”
As for his own game, Woods summed it up nicely.
“I felt like today it was important to take care of the par-5s again. There’s ten par-5s so far and I’ve played them 10-under, so that’s pretty good.”
McIlroy was also impressed.
Assessing his playing partner’s performance, he said: “I played with him at the Memorial this year and he was struggling a little bit. Still hit some good shots. He’s playing nicely, and he’s still working pretty hard on what he’s trying to do. It looks like it’s really coming on. Today somehow he recovered from his mistakes.
“He holed a couple of pretty nice putts for par, but yeah, apart from that, he just played really solid golf. I haven’t watched a lot of him this year, but what I have seen, it just looked like mentally he wasn’t quite there. I think he’s in a better place and that’s why he can work on his game a bit.”