He swore he wasn’t disappointed to come up short.
“Disappointed? Absolutely not,” he said.
Then he cracked, “A 61’s pretty good. I’m not bummed.”
Like a pitcher having to settle for a shutout instead of a perfect game, Woods could console himself by tying his career best and building a seven-shot lead Friday through 36 holes at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Pursuing his eighth victory at Firestone Country Club, Woods opened birdie-eagle — stuffing an approach to 3 feet at the first hole and holing a 20-footer for 3 at the par-5 second. He had two more birdies on the front nine, and had four in a row to start the back nine in a light rain.
Needing to go only 2 under over his last five holes, he missed birdie putts inside 10 feet at 15 and 17. He saved par on the last with a 25-footer after an errant drive and a shot that hit into the trees and ended up in a bare spot short and right of the green.
“How about just pleased?” he said, when asked to rate the round. “I’m very happy I was able to post that. I just kept thinking, whatever lead I had, ‘Let’s just keep increasing it.’ It’s at seven now, I believe. So that’s not too bad after two days.”
The 61 — matching his career best at the 1999 Byron Nelson, 2005 Buick Open and on the same Firestone course back in 2000 — left him at 13-under 127.
Defending champion Keegan Bradley and Chris Wood, playing the tournament for the first time, were tied for second. They each shot 68.
Bradley finished well before Woods, but was asked if it was disheartening to take the lead and then have Woods retake it after the opening two holes.
“Tiger, those first couple holes out there are definitely birdie holes, so I’d expect him to do that,” Bradley said. “You know, I hope he doesn’t go too low.”
Woods, a four-time winner this year, needed only 22 putts, eight fewer than he had Thursday in an opening 66. He hit 10 of 14 fairways and was on in regulation on 16 of 18 greens.
The next best score on a threatening day with a slate-gray sky and precipitation was a 66.
It seemed every fan on the course took notice as Woods started stacking up birdies. The magic number 59 — shot five times on the PGA Tour — dominated conversations.
“Oh, they were excited,” Woods said. “You could hear it more than feel it. You definitely could hear it. They were into it.”
Asked if that kind of electricity helps out a player, he joked, “It’s nice to be playing in front of people who are excited like that, especially people who aren’t yelling just because your ball gets in the air. You know, we are pros.”
How good were things going for him? He yanked a drive into the trees at 13, but it ricocheted into the middle of the fairway. From there he hit an iron to 15 feet and drilled the putt.
At the 14th, Woods hit his drive on the other side of the cart path beneath a canopy of huge trees to the right. He was forced to hit a low, hard, slicing shot to the green that ran to the back fringe. From there, he chipped 10 feet past but rolled in the par putt.
The gallery seemed to swell with each hole, the crowds growing in hopes of seeing history.
He stepped off his shot into the 216-yard, par-3 15th because he was bothered by a bug, then hit an iron 10 feet short of the pin. After playing partner Hideki Matsuyama of Japan putted out, Woods missed his birdie putt on the right side.
The 667-yard 16th, dubbed “The Monster” by Arnold Palmer, resulted in another par. Woods hit a long drive that dribbled into the first cut of rough on the left side of the fairway, then laid up to about 100 yards. His wedge carried too far, however, spinning back to 30 feet. With a light sprinkle turning into a steady drizzle, he two-putted, leaving the birdie attempt short and right of the hole by 2 feet.
A huge throng, several deep around the lengthy hole, responded with polite applause as he tapped in.
He still had a chance for a 59. He hit a long drive along the left side at 17, but misread a 7-footer for birdie that missed on the low side of the break.
“I had opportunities to make putts there at 15 and 17,” he said.
With the rain now falling hard, and Woods needing to hole his second shot on the par-4 18th for a 59, he drove far to the right on the slight dogleg to the left. He muscled a shot out of a difficult lie to a bare spot near a huge scoreboard right and short of the green. From there, he chipped to the back fringe — and made the 25-footer coming back for par.
He pumped his fist as the crowd roared.
Matsuyama, a 21-year-old who was sixth at the British Open, got a close-up view.
“It was great looking at great play at the top of the world,” he said.
The last player to shoot 59 in a PGA Tour event was Stuart Appleby in the final round of the Greenbrier Classic in 2010. Al Geiberger was the first in 1977, and Chip Beck, David Duval and Paul Goydos also accomplished the feat.
Bill Haas shot a 68 and was tied for fourth at 5 under with Henrik Stenson, who had a 70. Jim Furyk, Luke Donald, Jason Duffner and Bubba Watson were 4 under.
There have been 27 rounds of 60 in tour events, including Phil Mickelson this year in the Phoenix Open.
In a remarkable career spent in the spotlight, a 59 would have been just another check mark on Woods’ to-do list. Instead, he didn’t think it was even anything special.
“(One of my) top 10 rounds?” he said, repeating the question. “I don’t know about that.”