He may have run out of steam on day one but Tiger Woods was back to his best from start to finish in the second round of the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. Playing on his own in the first group of the day after Justin Rose withdrew, the 14-time major winner carded a flawless seven-under-par 65 to propel himself up the leaderboard in his own event at Albany Golf Club.
“It feels good,” said Woods of an eight-shot improvement on his opening effort, which had given him a share of the lead after getting to four under only to then run up four 6s, including two double-bogeys, as his game became ragged on his keenly-anticipated return to competitive action after a 466-day absence caused by three back surgeries.
“Yesterday I had it going for eight holes then lost it and finished over par,” he added after moving to six under for the tournament, six shots behind joint leaders Dustin Johnson (66) and Hideki Matsujyama (67). “Today was different. I made a bad swing on eight, hitting it into a bush again, but this time I managed to get it up and down. I also didn’t play nine and 11 over par; I birdied both holes. I played the middle part better, kept the momentum going and moved myself up the leaderboard.”
Continuing to attract incredible interest despite that disappointing finish on Thursday that left him second last in an 18-man field, Woods “bombed” his opening drive before hitting a 60-degree sand wedge to around five feet for a confidence-boosting birdie. He then knocked in a 15-footer for his second gain of the day at the par-5 sixth before making a “big up and down” from close to a clumpy bit of long grass in the sandy waste area at the left of the par-3 eighth.
Unable to get up in two at the ninth, where he’d found trouble off the tee the previous day, the 40-year-old was on the fairway on this occasion with a 5-wood, laid up with a 3-iron before hitting a pitching wedge close from 128 yards for a third birdie of the round. He was out in 33, three-under, for the second day running but fared much better on the back nine on this occasion.
The par-3 12th, where he hit a “perfect full 6-iron” close to the hole, was the pick of four birdies while just as pleasing for the world No 898 – he will be rocketing up the rankings again before too long playing like this – was a brilliant par save from around 25 feet at the 16th following a rare wayward tee shot. “To not drop a shot and lose any momentum was big,” he admitted afterwards, having celebrated at the time with a trademark Tiger fist pump.
As Russell Knox carded a level-par 72 for a three-under-total, five of his compatriots headed into the opening weekend of the 2017 European Tour season with a pay-day guaranteed and, for one of them, that’s a first. It’s been a tough start to life in the paid ranks for Bradley Neil, but the 20-year-old from Blairgowrie is beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Buoyed by making it to the final stage of the recent Qualifying School final and playing in all six rounds in Spain, he joined Stephen Gallacher and Ross Kellett in making the cut in the Australian PGA Championship, which had home hope Andrew Dodt leading by two shots at the halfway stage at the RACV Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast.
Also still working at the weekend are Scott Jamieson and David Drysdale, the pair sitting 14th and 32nd respectively behind another home player, in this instance South African Brandon Stone, in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.