Sports are defined by eras, some more identifiable than others. In the NBA, for instance, the 1980s were dominated by the Boston Celtics and Showtime Lakers. Then came the Bad Boy Pistons, followed by Michael and the Bulls and eventually Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers.
Golf, however, is a little less black and white. Players ebb and flow throughout seasons and throughout weekends. One player can dominate one major and miss the cut at the next – and vice versa.
But Friday’s British Open seemed bigger than that. Friday felt like the end of one era and the beginning of the next.
“I feel like this was almost a changing-of-the-guard type of day,” Golf Channel senior writer Jason Sobel said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “And I don’t make major proclamations very often. I’m not prone to hyperbole, I don’t think. But this sort of feels like the transition of the gradual move from the Tiger era into – I don’t know if it’s the Rory era or the Young Gun era or whatever the next era is going to be. But boy, this sure seems like the next step in that gradual process.”
Rory McIlroy opened the British Open with back-to-back 6-under 66s to take a four-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson entering Saturday. Tiger Woods, meanwhile, went from a 3-under 69 on Thursday to having to birdie 18 on Friday just to make the cut, which he did.
What went wrong for Woods on Friday?
“A lot of things,” Sobel said. “I point to three different things so far over the first two days. First of all, he’s not starting well. I mean, he went bogey-bogey (on Thursday) on the first two holes, (and) he went double (bogey) and then bogey (on Friday). Five over on the first two holes is horrible. That’s a terrible way to start. Whether it’s his preparation, whether it’s his mindset going in – I don’t know the answer to that, but you can’t start like that and expect to climb back into it.”
“The second thing was his driver today was just awful,” Sobel continued. “He usually does not hit (his) driver around this golf course. He wanted to play a more aggressive style of golf today, and it did not turn out well for him. He hit driver five times, was 0-5 hitting fairways on those occasions and played those five holes at 6-over par, so that did not work for him.”
“And the third thing was par-5 scoring. Eight years ago, Tiger Woods won on this golf course by playing the par-5s (at) 14-under par. On Friday, he was just 1-under par. Three pars and one birdie. He needed that birdie on the last hole just to make the cut on the number. He used to dominate the par-5 holes. This is a guy who was first 10 different times on the PGA Tour in par-5 scoring average. This year – I know it’s a small sample size – (his rank on the PGA Tour is) 191.”
McIlroy, on the other hand, posted his lowest second-day score of the season on either the PGA or European tours. He also made just one bogey through 36 holes.
Not bad for a guy who shot an opening-round 63 and a second-round 80 at this event four years ago. Looking at this year in particular, McIlroy’s Friday average was almost five shots higher than his Thursday average.
“I think he dealt with (the pressure) a lot better (this time around),” Sobel said. “That put (Friday’s) 66, in my mind, as way more impressive than (Thursday’s 66). Anyone can start well, but to back it up and shoot the same score again, I thought, was really impressive stuff.”