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Tiger's 61 was a reminder of the golfer we once knew

Will Tidey August 2, 2013
Woods celebrates making a birdie at the 12th © Getty Images
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It could have been a fabled 59, one of the few feats left for Tiger Woods to conquer on the PGA Tour. It could have been lower still, when you consider Woods came to the 14th already nine under and with five chances ahead of him.

For 13 holes, the Woods of old lit up the par-70 Firestone Country Club course. A birdie-eagle-start got him going, and he made the turn in five under and flying. Dominance turned divine from the 10th, with four straight one-putt birdies to threaten the record books.

It was classic, trailblazing Tiger. Twenty-foot putts were dropping and par was never a problem. Momentum surged and the golfing press rushed to report his round in real-time, as he arrived at the 14th with a round in the mid-to-high 50s in his grasp.

"59 watch" went viral, and suddenly Tiger had taken us back to the days when he barely seemed human.

Only five players in PGA Tour history have gone below 60, and none lower than 59. The last was Stuart Appleby in 2010, though Phil Mickelson came close with a brilliant 60 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in January.

Tiger had a chance to set a new marker. But, much like his majors career since that US Open win in 2008, it would prove a story of what could have been.

This was different, though. His round of 61 was the stuff of greatness and five shots better than anybody else in the field mustered on Friday. He played with comfort, aggression and, with a seven-shot lead, has won this WGC title at the halfway point. Shooting 61 can never be anything but brilliant.

You still have to touch on what happened from 14 to 18. Woods missed three fairways and a couple of birdie chances. There was a wavering that some will say would not have happened pre-2008, and the cost was a round of 59 or lower.

If they watch back his 26-footer for par at the last, however, they may be convinced otherwise. Standing over his putt from the fringe, Woods never doubted for a second. As the ball chased towards the hole up went his arm and up went the fans in the stands.

He might not have shot 59 on Friday, but there's no doubting Tiger gave us a glimpse of his former self at Firestone. And there's no doubt the attention focused on his round of 61 will boost his confidence heading into the year's final major.

Woods will never get back to where he was, but the evidence on Friday suggests he's starting to get some of the old swagger back. With a game like his, that might be the difference between another nearly show and taking home that elusive 15th major at Oak Hill.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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Will has covered Tour events. majors and Ryder Cups and interviewed the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Rory McIlroy. He once inhaled the cigar smoke of the coolest man in golf, Miguel Angel Jimenez, while watching sports cars tear around Brands Hatch. As a left-handed hacker he's been humiliated at esteemed venues including Carnoustie, Wentworth, Kiawah Island and Pinehurst No. 2.