Nobody has a better scoring average on Saturdays on the PGA Tour than Tiger Woods, and the Bridgestone Invitational would be a good time to keep that up.
He might not have a choice. Neither will Rory McIlroy, Jason Day or anyone else wanting to keep pace.
Tommy Fleetwood took advantage of another soft day of good scoring at Firestone on Friday with a seven-under-par 63. So did the 2017 P.G.A. Championship winner Justin Thomas, who was particularly sharp with his putter for a 64. They shared the lead with Ian Poulter, who had a head start with his career-low 62 and backed it up on Friday with a 67.
They all played early and finished at 11-under 129.
No one could catch them, mainly because there was just enough breeze to cause just enough doubt.
Even so, 45 players in the 71-man field were under par, a rarity at Firestone. Woods, whose last victory was five years ago when he won this World Golf Championships event for a record eighth time, drew as close as four shots off the lead with a tee shot to 2 feet on the par-3 12th hole. He went one over the rest of the way for a 68, leaving him five shots behind.
Will he make another Saturday move?
“I’m going to have to,” Woods said. “The golf course is playing very soft, very receptive. And when you’re able to hit 5-irons and they only roll out about a foot, the guys are going to put up good scores. There’s 40-plus guys under par. That’s never the case here at Firestone. So tomorrow is going to be one of those days I’m going to have to go out there and post a low one and see what happens.”
Fleetwood, the runner-up at the United States Open, was pleased to have nothing higher than 4s on his scorecard. He made it look easy, except for a few times he was slightly out of position, and hit perhaps his best shot with a 6-iron to a back-left pin that settled 3 feet below the cup.
“My irons, I just tended to hit exactly where we were picking the spots, and I holed a few putts,” Fleetwood said. “You’ve got days like that where it’s going well, and you’ve just got to make the most of them.”
Day, who threw away a chance to win at Firestone two years ago, did not make as many as he would have liked. He still had a 66, playing in the same group with Woods, and joined Kyle Stanley (68) two shots behind the leaders.
McIlroy was a further shot behind after a finishing a frustrating day with two birdies. He was in position to make birdies, especially a 380-yard drive he launched at the 482-yard eighth hole that left him only a sand wedge in. It came up short, rolled down a slope and left him 45 feet away. He blasted a 319-yard drive down the middle at the 10th, only to hit a sand wedge just over the green and make bogey.
His finish began with a tee shot on the 17th hole that landed closer to the 16th fairway. His approach went into the front bunker, and he holed out for birdie. He then stuffed one on the 18th for another short birdie at a 67.
“An adventure to say the least,” McIlroy said. “I was one under standing on the 17th tee, and I think if I had to finish one under, it would have felt like the worst I could have shot today. So to get those two birdies on the last two holes is obviously very nice and gets a couple closer to the lead.”
Woods opened with a bogey, bounced back with three birdies over his next four holes and looked as if he might make a move with his birdie on the 12th. Two holes later, he faced such an awkward lie from the top collar of a bunker that he was not sure how to stand or how hard to hit it. He hit it too hard, through the green, and made bogey.