August 21, 2015

Tiger enters weekend at Wyndham in tie for lead

For weeks, Tiger Woods has insisted his game is progressing and that he isn’t far from putting it together. There has been more evidence of that this week in the Wyndham Championship at steamy Sedgewood Country Club in Greensboro, N.C.

Competing in the tournament for the first time, the 39-year-old Woods backed up a 6-under-par 64 in Thursday’s opening round with a 65 on Friday. He now shares the lead with Tom Hoge at 11-under 129.

“It’s just part of the process,” said Woods, who owns 79 career victories on the PGA Tour, but is winless since 2013.

The last time he led or shared the 36-hole lead at a PGA Tour event was at the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which he won.

Tiger didn’t officially commit until Monday and needs a win this week to clinch a berth in the first FedExCup playoff event next week. He’s done a nice job of staying in the present.

“I just have to take it a day at a time,” he said. “I came here to win the tournament. Right now I’m in good shape.”

It marked the sixth time in Tiger’s career he has started a PGA Tour event by shooting consecutive rounds of 65 or better, the last coming at the 2007 TOUR Championship. He won the previous five.

With course conditions firming up after early-week rain, players had to adjust their strategy on Friday. Woods learned that the hard way on the par-4 first hole, when his 2-iron off the tee traveled more than 280 yards and he three-putted for a bogey from 21 feet.

“We were all surprised,” he said, referring to playing partners Brooks Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama. “The greens are getting faster.”

Followed by another huge gallery in 85-degree heat, Woods two-putted the par-4 second hole for par, then hit a nice tee shot to the 171-yard, par-3 third and buried the six-foot birdie putt.

Tiger hit a quality approach shot to the par-4 fourth, but just missed a 10-foot birdie attempt. At the 529-yard par-5 fifth, he drove into the left rough, but caught a good lie and knocked his second shot just left of the green, the ball releasing off a bank and trickling nine feet short of the pin. Woods thought he made the eagle putt, the ball burning the right edge, but settled for a two-putt birdie.

He failed to convert another good opportunity at the par-4 sixth, then dropped a stroke at the par-3 seventh, where his tee shot sailed long and he failed to get up and down, leaving his flop shot 15 feet from the hole. But once again, Tiger rebounded quickly with a nice birdie at the short par-4 eighth, flagging his approach shot from 111 yards about three feet from the pin.

Woods hit another beautiful approach shot to the par-4 ninth, the ball finishing nine feet from the hole. Tiger read the putt perfectly and the ball was dead-center but stopped one revolution short of the cup, Woods reacting with disbelief. He still made the turn in 1-under 34.

Unlike Thursday, when players used the lift, clean and place rule due to soggy conditions, they played it down on Friday. Tiger just missed the par-4 10th green with his second shot, catching the right fringe, and did well to two-putt, holing a five-footer for par.

At the par-4 11th, Tiger found the fairway and hit another solid approach shot but was unable to convert his birdie try, leaving it just inches short of the hole. But Woods nearly dunked his tee shot at the 208-yard, par-3 12th, just missing an ace, and polished off the six foot birdie putt.

With the fans urging him on, Tiger split the fairway at the par-4 13th, then lofted his approach from 130 yards 24 feet right of the pin. Faced with a big-breaker from right to left, he judged it perfectly and the ball found the bottom of the cup, the crowd roaring its approval.

At the par-4 14th, Woods drove into the left rough and had 164 yards to the green. He muscled his second shot 39 feet from the hole and had to sink a ticklish three-footer to save par.

Tiger blasted a 313-yard drive down the fairway at the 545-yard, par-5 15th and was left with 228 yards to the green, guarded by water on the right. From there, he faded a gorgeous 4-iron just left of the pin and the ball came to rest nine feet left of the hole. Woods stroked the speedy eagle putt perfectly and it disappeared into the cup for an eagle to earn him a share of the lead at 11-under with Tom Hoge. Once again, the fans erupted and a smiling Tiger tipped his hat.

At the downhill 169-yard, par-3 16th, Woods came up short of the green with a 9-iron, just clearing a bunker. He executed the testy uphill chip shot beautifully, the ball settling two feet right of the pin for an easy par save.

Tiger found the fairway at the 406-yard, par-4 17th, then hit his second shot 19 feet below the hole. He gave his birdie attempt a bold run, catching the right side of the cup, and the ball slid five feet past. Woods finished it off for a par.

At the 507-yard, par-4 18th, Tiger drove into the left rough and had 176 yards remaining to the green. He flushed his second shot over the top of the pin, but the ball wound up 27 feet above the cup. Faced with a quick, downhill, left-to-right putt, Woods hit it softly and the ball immediately dove right, settling three feet from the hole. He knocked it in to preserve a share of the lead.

On the day, Tiger hit eight of 13 fairways and 15 of 18 greens. After using 17 putts on the front nine, he needed only 13 on the back and finished with 30.

“It was a grind today,” Woods said. “I wasn’t quite as sharp as I was yesterday and couldn’t keep my irons below the hole. I hung in there with my speed.”

 An estimated 25,000 spectators came out Friday, the majority following Woods, Koepka and Matsuyama.

“Incredible,” said Tiger. “The people here have been fantastic. They’ve been so supportive.”

 Woods and Hoge will tee off in the final twosome Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.