Woods' revival gathers pace

From the bunker at the fifth hole of the Innisbrook Resort north of Tampa, Florida, former world No. 1 Tiger Woods blasts out to five feet and sinks the birdie putt. It moved him to five under for the tournament and briefly into the lead at Valspar C
From the bunker at the fifth hole of the Innisbrook Resort north of Tampa, Florida, former world No. 1 Tiger Woods blasts out to five feet and sinks the birdie putt. It moved him to five under for the tournament and briefly into the lead at Valspar Championship.PHOTO: REUTERS

Odds on American to win Masters in April shorten after flashes of old form in Florida

MIAMI • Tiger Woods put his name atop a leaderboard again, if only briefly, driving fans into a frenzy and positioning himself for a weekend run at Valspar Championship leader Corey Conners.

Former world No. 1 Woods, playing his fourth PGA Tour event since returning in January from spinal fusion surgery last April, fired a three-under 68 for a halfway total of 138. That was good enough for a share of the early clubhouse lead before Canadian rookie Conners, the overnight leader fired a 69 for 136.

Woods was almost flawless, with only a bogey at his final hole, the par-four ninth at Innisbrook Resort north of Tampa, Florida. He was tied with England's Paul Casey (68) and fellow Americans Brandt Snedeker (68), Ryan Palmer (66) and Kelly Kraft (70).

"I'm up there," Woods said. "At least I'm there with a chance going into the weekend."

That was more than some other of golf's biggest names could say, as Jordan Spieth (71) and Rory McIlroy (73) both missed the halfway cut.

Woods teed off on No. 10 and drained six-foot birdie putts at 12th and 13th and rolled in an 11-footer for another birdie at the par-four second hole. In a greenside bunker at the par-five fifth, Woods blasted out to five feet and made the putt for a birdie that moved him to five under for the tournament and put him alone atop the leaderboard.

He saved par at the seventh with an 11-foot putt, but his five-foot par attempt at his final hole lipped out.

"I didn't know I had the sole lead," Woods said. "As I was walking off nine it showed 68 and that was at four (under)."

For others, however, it was heady stuff to see Woods' name on top of the leaderboard less than a month before the first Major of the year, the Masters.

"He just has an extra following so the roars are a little louder," Spieth said of the 42-year-old 14-time Major champion.

"There's certainly an energy about the gallery that you don't have anywhere else."

Woods' odds to win the Masters, as adjusted by Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, dropped twice on Friday on the strength of his performance, first from 16/1 to 12/1 and then to 10/1 - behind only world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas, both priced at 8/1.

Woods said in January, when he returned to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines, that the early stages of his latest comeback would all be aimed at Augusta National, where he has won four green jackets but has not played since 2015.

He finished tied for 23rd at Torrey Pines, then missed the cut at Riviera in Los Angeles before a 12th-placed finish at the Honda Classic two weeks ago.

He is expected to tee it up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week in his final Masters tune-up.

"I keep getting a little bit better here and there, making these little subtle tweaks," said Woods, who was sidelined for all of 2016 before an abortive comeback bid last year.

"I just need to get a little bit more tournament time in. But I'm starting to get a better feel for it. I'm finding the rhythm of the rounds.

"I'm able to play more 'feel' golf than I am just trying to figure out how to play golf again."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 11, 2018, with the headline 'Woods' revival gathers pace'. Print Edition | Subscribe