Tuesday 20 February 2018

Tiger rediscovers his mojo Down Under to be halfway leader


James Corrigan, in Sydney

Whatever else Tiger Woods goes on to achieve in the remnants of this golfing year, he can at least say he topped an overnight leaderboard in 2011.

The former world No 1 resumed his challenge for the Australian Open this morning having prised a one-shot advantage over Lakes member Peter O'Malley at the halfway point.

Of course, the cries of "he's back" have been heard before in the calamitous two years since his infidelities were exposed.

But there was something about the 35-year-old's five-under 67 which gave that grand statement added validity. One shot in particular would have had the thousands at the Lakes in Sydney convinced they were witnessing the resurrection of a master.

It came on the penultimate hole of a round which took him to nine-under. On the 550-yard par-five eighth, he was faced with 275 yards from a hanging lie with the breeze stiffening into his face.

His playing partner, the 23-year-old Aussie Jason Day, had taken on the putting surface but his ball dipped into a bunker. There were no such problems for Woods, who played a low three-wood with a little right to left, bumping it into the heart of the green.

"I just stood there going, 'wow'," was Day's response.

"It was howling in my face and I had to start it into the bunker and just hammer it," said Woods. "And I did. It was the best shot I've hit so far. It felt good."

In truth, for that second, Tiger felt like the old Tiger again, even though he was to miss the eagle putt. The question was whether he could maintain the form. Since his status as an icon was smashed, Woods has threatened to regain it on several occasions, but each time cracks have appeared in what was for so long sport's most durable psyche.

He has to look back to last December, and his own tournament, the Chevron World Challenge, for a time when he last topped the leaderboard at the end of a day's play.

"At Chevron I hit it with one shot," he said. "I hit basically a draw for the entire week. Right now I am able to move the ball both ways. I haven't been able to do that for a long time."

Despite being delighted to be back on top of a leaderboard again, Woods felt his advantage could have been a lot more comfortable.

"Basically, I felt that I never really missed a shot. Even though I shot five-under today it felt like it could easily have been eight or nine," he said.

"I could have been a little lower on my first nine holes. I parred a couple of the par-fives. It feels good that I am there playing properly. It's not like I am slashing it all over the place.

"I am hitting the ball well. I have just hit so many lips these first two days. It could have been pretty low these first two days. My whole goal is to win golf tournaments and play to the satisfaction of myself and my family. That, to me, is what it is all about."

Day, who lies third, two shots behind Woods, was certainly impressed. "Tiger is playing great," he said. "He is hitting the ball very solid. Golf needs Tiger Woods."

O'Malley fired six birdies and was the only player not to make a bogey on his way to a 66 -- the lowest round of the day -- but the shot of the day belonged to Australian Stephen Allan (74), who made a hole in one at the par-three 15th.

Day was alone in third on seven-under after carding a solid 68 that featured five birdies and a solitary bogey.

Big-hitting American Bubba Watson was in fourth spot after posting a respectable two-under 70 in the blustery afternoon conditions to finish six-under overall -- one clear of Nick Watney (73), Matt Jones (70), Greg Chalmers (72), Rohan Blizard (70) and Jarrod Lyle (74).

Lyle joined Woods in a share of first place with two early birdies, but three late bogeys denied him the chance to play in the final pairing today.

Australian Adam Scott -- accompanied by Woods' former caddie Steve Williams -- was within striking distance at four-under after signing for a 71 that included an eagle and a double bogey. (© Independent News Service)

Australia Open, Round 4,

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