Lazarus-like Woods shines as McIlroy falters again
As a Lazarus-like Woods carded an impressive, three-under 68 to share the clubhouse lead with Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Palmer and Kelly Kraft on four-under par, Rory McIlroy missed his second cut in his last four starts with just four weeks to go before the Masters.
Struggling to find consistency with his short irons and his putting, the four-time Major winner made five bogeys in a two-over 73 to sit two shots outside the projected cut line on five-over par.
His frustration contrasted sharply with Woods' cool as the 14-time Major winner (42) thrilled the thousands who made the early-morning trip to see him on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort.
After making his fourth birdie of the day at his 14th hole to snatch the outright lead in an event for the first time in 953 days, he drew huge roars by ramming in a 12-footer for par at his 16th before closing with a bogey that took only a little sheen off an otherwise polished display.
He might not have won a tournament since he captured his 79th PGA Tour title in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron in 2013 but he was hugely encouraged to see further signs of improvement in his game as he builds up to the Masters.
"I feel good," said Woods, who birdied the 12th, 13th, second and fifth before short-siding himself at the ninth.
"I feel like I was playing well at Honda. It was just a matter of cleaning up a few things here and there."
It's a remarkable story considering he was unsure last September if he would ever play again, telling reporters at the Presidents Cup, "I don't know what my future holds for me."
Now he's thinking of win number 80, or at least, hoping to feel that competitive buzz again as he targets a 15th Major win at Augusta National.
"Got a long way to go, 36 holes," Woods said before conceding: "Today was a good day."
He added: "I keep getting a little bit better here and there... I just need to get a little bit more tournament time in and I think I've done that and I'm starting to get a better feel for it."
It was also a great day for Shane Lowry, whose one-under par leaves him on one-under par and on track for the solo 15th place finish he needs to qualify for the WGC-Dell Technologies Championship in a fortnight.
But it was a frustrating one for McIlroy, who birdied the par-five first, then three-putted the second and bogeyed the seventh and the ninth with short irons in his hand before three-putting again at the 10th to slip to six-over.
While he did birdie the par-five 11th and 14th to get back to four-over, he bogeyed the par-three 15th, missing a six-footer for par to finish the day alongside the struggling Open champion Jordan Spieth on five-over.
Graeme McDowell was sitting on the projected three-over par cut line after a 72, but Pádraig Harrington's 73 left him outside the mark on seven-over with Seamus Power one of the late starters.
On the European Tour, India's Shubhankar Sharma shaved a shot off Emiliano Grillo's day-old course record to move up to second behind the Argentinian in the Hero Indian Open.
After clinching a Masters invitation last week, the 21-year-old local hero was five-over par after just nine holes of his opening round but played his next 27 holes in 12-under par.
An eight-under 64 leaves him just four shots behind the Argentinian on seven-under par with Darren Clarke (49) safely in for the weekend on one-over after rounds of 72 and 73.
At Sharjah Senior Golf Masters, overnight leader Clark Dennis shot a four-under 68 and Thailand's Thaworn Wiratchant a 65 to lead by two shots on 11-under par with Headfort's Brendan McGovern tied 11th on two-under after a 70.
Ronan Rafferty is 29th on three-under after a 72 with Philip Walton tied 42nd on seven-over after a 75 and Des Smyth 11-over after a 79.
In amateur golf, Europe lead Asia-Pacific 11-9 heading into the final-day singles in the biennial Bonallack Trophy at Doha Golf Club in Qatar.
Tramore's Robin Dawson will lead off for Europe after earning a half with Marc Hammer in the morning fourballs and a two-hole foursomes win with the German in the afternoon.
In the Patsy Hankins Trophy, Asia-Pacific takes an unassailable 16.5-3.5 lead into the singles with Lisburn's Paula Grant looking to bounce back from three defeats in partnership with England's Isobel Wardle.
- Indian Open, Sky Sports, 5.30am
- Valspar Championship, Sky Sports, 7.0pm