NASSAU, Bahamas — As Tiger Woods began a charge that catapulted him to the top of the Hero World Challenge leaderboard, the only people on the golf course at Albany who seemed not to be following his every stroke were the three volunteers working the scoreboard off to the side of the fourth green.
Woods birdied two of the first three holes to arrive at the par-4 fourth hole one stroke behind the first-round leader, Tommy Fleetwood. But his name appeared nowhere on the scoreboard, an oversight that became glaring after Woods sank a four-foot birdie putt to secure a share of the lead.
With every hole on the front nine that Woods played on Friday, it seemed as if another year melted away. By the time he found the green on the par-5 ninth with his second shot — into the wind from 265 yards — and made an 18-foot eagle putt, he looked like the Woods from 2009 once more.
Playing only his second competitive round in 302 days, Woods covered the front nine in five-under 31, which included three birdies and an eagle. He cooled off on the back, making one birdie and two bogeys to finish with a four-under 68. Through 36 holes, he is seven under.
Woods described the round as successful, and said, “I built on what I did yesterday.”
It was the first time since Aug. 23, 2015, that Woods, who opened with a 69, recorded back-to-back sub-70 rounds. He is tied for fifth, five strokes behind Charley Hoffman, who posted a 63 on Friday.
Woods said he experienced no soreness after his first round. And though he swallowed at least one Advil with a swig of water as he made his way around the course, he said it was not because he was feeling pain. “It’s what my surgeon says to do,” Woods said.
The only thing that seemed to cause him any distress was his putting. He said he struggled with the speed of the greens, which were visibly quicker than in the opening round. But, really, Woods was nit-picking. On the front nine, he had seven one-putts, including four in a row. He finished with 26 putts, one better than on Thursday. But a three-putt at the par-3 12th was still bothering him after the round.
Woods’s grousing about the flaws in his 68 reminded Joe LaCava, his caddie since 2011, of the olden days when Woods, a 79-time winner on the PGA Tour, set the bar so high only he could clear it. After playing the back nine in one over, Woods told LaCava that he had played one good nine.
“Well, you know how he is,” LaCava said. “As soon as he gets back into competition, he’s thinking: Win, win, win.”
LaCava said he told Woods: “You played good all day. You had one three-putt, so what? Put it behind you. It’s not the end of the world.”
LaCava described Woods’s front nine as flawless. According to Golf Channel, it was Woods’s best nine-hole score in relation to par in 1,457 days, since the second round of this event in 2013, when the tournament was held at Sherwood Country Club, outside Los Angeles, and Woods was winding down a calendar year in which he won five times.
“The power and the speed and the length that he’s hitting it, I didn’t think it was going to come this quickly, to be honest,” LaCava said. “I was with him a month ago in Florida and he was hitting it pretty good, but not to this extent.”
He added, “I think everyone was hoping for the best, but this is better than we thought.”
The loudest roar of the day came when Woods’s eagle putt at No. 9 dropped. Among those loudly celebrating was a man, clad in a red T-shirt that read, “Make Sundays Great Again,” who high-fived everyone within reach.
Less than a minute later came the second-loudest cheer, as the volunteers manually moved Woods’s name to the top of the leaderboard behind the ninth green.
The magic carpet ride on the front nine captivated Woods watchers from all over the globe. The two-time Olympic gold medal sprinter Donovan Bailey from Canada tweeted: “Could it be? Is Tiger actually back? I want to believe.”
The English golfer Chris Wood wrote, “He’s only leading,” followed by three “crying for joy” smiley faces and two handclaps. From athletes to entertainers like the Irish singer Niall Horan, the world seems to be Woods’s gallery this week.
“It’s pretty neat,” Woods said. “I think it’s very flattering, very humbling, that so many people really enjoyed what I’ve done throughout my first 20 years on the Tour.”
Second-ranked Jordan Spieth started two groups after Woods and could not help noticing Woods’s name climbing the leaderboard. Spieth, who posted a 67 to move to nine under, said, “The only surprising thing I would say about it is I took six weeks off and in my seventh week I was jittery.”
For Woods to make the move that he did in only his ninth competitive round since August 2015, Spieth added, “is what’s really exceptional up to this far in the tournament.” He added, “And no matter what happens going forward, I think he can walk away very confidently about how he handled taking a long break and coming back.”
With two rounds to play, Woods has winning on his mind. It is the surest sign that he is feeling like his old self.
Published at Sat, 02 Dec 2017 05:33:32 +0000