Tiger grinds his way to take joint lead

Tiger Woods is still looking for his first win since 2013. Through 17 starts in his return from a major back surgery, he finished in the top six half a dozen times.
Tiger Woods is still looking for his first win since 2013. Through 17 starts in his return from a major back surgery, he finished in the top six half a dozen times.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Woods hits only 2 fairways on front nine but digs deep to recover and ties top-ranked Rose

ATLANTA • After Tiger Woods tied for sixth at the British Open this summer, he told his two children that he hoped they were proud of him. Not for playing well or posting a top-10 finish, he said, but for "trying as hard as I did".

The crux of his greatness was right there in his phrasing. Woods, 42, is the king of a craft whose artisans often lose their way in the tall weeds of statistics: swing speed, fairways hit, strokes gained putting.

To watch Woods manoeuvre his way around East Lake Golf Club during the second round of the Tour Championship on Friday was to be reminded that his mastery cannot be explained by numbers on a spreadsheet or by a high-tech tracking device.

The 14-time Major champion took pride in shooting a two-under 68 and earning his first halfway lead since the 2015 Wyndham Championship, despite not quite firing on all cylinders.

"I didn't hit it very good overall today, didn't quite have the sharpness I had yesterday and it was pretty evident," he told reporters.

"This is a grinder's golf course. You've got to keep hanging in there and make a lot of pars and I did that today... I ground out a round and shot something under par."

Woods never stopped grinding and, through sheer fortitude, he finished the day with a share of the lead despite hitting only two fairways on the front nine and producing just one birdie through the first 11 holes. His 36-hole total of seven-under 133 put him in a tie with world No. 1 Justin Rose of England, who posted a 67.

"It's easy to shoot low scores when you're sharp. It's a little bit more difficult to post a low number when I'm off.

"But I was able to do that today, kept myself in the tournament," added Woods, who also shared the first-round lead, with a 65.

Rose was also pleased with his score on a day when he was unable to replicate his first-round driving.

"It's just hard to hit a ton of fairways," he said. "Yesterday I hit a ton of fairways, and I felt like it was an easy course, but today was much more of a struggle."

Through 17 starts in his return from career-threatening back surgery, Woods has six top-six finishes, but he is still looking for his first win since 2013.

The American said that staying calm under pressure will be key in order for him to shoot low scores over the next two rounds.

"I've been pretty good at being patient in my career," he said.

"I've won 14 Majors so, in order to get ahead, I've got to stay patient."

Rickie Fowler, who played the back nine in 39 strokes after needing 33 on the front, marvelled at Woods' ability to post nines of 35 and 33 on a day when his control off the tee had escaped him.

"You understand why he has done a very good job throughout his career of getting the most out of every round when you watch him do it," Fowler said.

"When he is in trouble, he plays his way into a position where he can recover. He doesn't compound his mistakes."

Former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, is lurking just two shots back of Woods and Rose after firing 68 for a five-under 135 total.

"There are still 36 holes to play. I like this golf course," the Northern Irishman said. "This is my fourth or fifth time at the Tour Championship, and I've played it pretty well every time I've come here.

"The course suits me. It suits the ball striker. I feel like my game has continuously gotten a little bit better over the last few weeks."

NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 23, 2018, with the headline 'Tiger grinds his way to take joint lead'. Print Edition | Subscribe