December 01, 2017

Woods tied for fifth after two rounds of Hero World Challenge

ALBANY, Bahamas – Halfway through the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods has shown he has game and health.

It’s a promising start considering he hasn’t competed in 10 months and underwent his fourth back surgery last April.

Woods electrified the golf world Friday by firing a 5-under-par 31 on the front nine at Albany Resort to claim the solo lead in the $3.5 million event. He did it by eagling the par-5 ninth hole, following up a massive drive with a towering 3-wood from 265 yards that landed softly, 18 feet past the pin. The left-to-right putt was center-cut.

When the week began, few expected Woods to contend against this talented 18-player field that includes eight of the top 10 in the world. He had little to go on other than spirited Florida practice rounds with Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Daniel Berger.

Each raved about his club head speed, distance, short game and swing, but producing inside the ropes in front of galleries is a different story. So far, the 79-time PGA Tour winner and 14-time major champ looks comfortable.

After starting with a 3-under 69 Thursday, he posted a 4-under 68 Friday and is tied for fifth at 7-under 137, five strokes behind pacesetter Charley Hoffman. Social media exploded about Woods’ front nine performance that included birdies at No. 1, 3 and 4, that latter a near hole-out on the par-4.

When the eagle landed, golf and non-golf fans shook their heads.

“It’s nice to see him again,” said Hoffman, who blazed a 63. “I was playing with Justin (Thomas) and he had never heard the roars before. It’s pretty special.”

Woods carded another birdie at the par-5 11th, nearly chipping in for eagle to go 6-under for the round. He scuffled from there, three-putting twice, but kept his round together. His best save of the day came at the 190-yard par-3 17th, where his 6-iron finished front right below a steep mound to a back-right pin.

Having struggled with several into the grain pitches the first day, some held their breath when he chose to chip his second shot. But Woods executed perfectly, barely clipping the putting surface grass, and the ball nestled two feet from the cup for a great par save.

“I could have gotten a few more on that back nine,” he said afterward. “I had a difficult time all day with my speed on the greens. They were a foot faster than yesterday and I airmailed a few of them past the hole.”

Woods’ ball-striking was mostly solid from tee to green, and he seems to be gaining more confidence as he plays his way back into tournament shape.

In two days, Woods has hit 16 fairways and 25 greens.

“That proved the surgery was successful and the rehab has been fantastic,” said the 41-year-old Woods, who doubles as tournament host this week. “Now we have a chance to go out there and play some golf.”

Woods’ goal this week was to put himself in contention on Sunday, an accomplishment that seems doable. But he also knows this is the first step of his latest comeback and he’s taking a longer view.

“I’m just getting back,” he said. “I still have a long way to go. It’s going to take time, a lot more practice, training and tournaments.”

Nonetheless, in just two rounds, Woods has jump-started the sport again and created must-watch TV.

He has received social media shout-outs from a number of fellow athletes.

Woods has always been appreciative of the support he has received from his peers and fans, now more than ever.

“It’s pretty neat,” he said. “It’s very flattering, very humbling that so many people really enjoyed what I’ve done throughout my first 20 years on Tour. I put a few smiles and (some) excitement into people’s lives, and as an athlete, it’s very humbling.”

Woods will play with Hideki Matsuyama in Saturday’s third round beginning at 12:53 p.m. ESDT. NBC will provide live coverage.