Albany (The Bahamas): Is the world of golf set to witness its greatest comeback story?
Till two days back, it all looked like the oh-so-similar tale of Tiger Woods attempting to make another comeback. The odds were 40-1, fellow golfers hoped to see Woods “back at his best” but deep down, none expected to see his name on top of the leaderboard. Not even Tiger himself!
Half way stage into the Hero World Challenge here, and Tiger has exploded with his second round of 68, that included a eagle on the ninth hole, and was in outright lead at one stage, his first in a tournament since August 2015.
There were oohs and aahs and high-fives exchanged as Woods’ name flashed on the leaderboard after 27 holes in the second round. Is it for real? Is Tiger back to his best?
There are still two days for all the answers to come through, but for once just sit back and enjoy the vintage Woods. At the end of the day, Woods was tied fifth at seven-under 137 (69, 68), five shots adrift of surprise leader Charley Hoffman.
The world no. 1,199 led the field of 18 at one stage and the bare numbers do not reflect it truly. Woods’ spectacular display on the day featured four birdies and an eagle. If he had encountered any chipping issues a day before, it all seemed to have been dealt with.
The highlight of the day came on the ninth hole. On Thursday, Woods was left disappointed and even swore loudly as he bogeyed the tricky hole.
A mere 24 hours later, he eagled the same very hole hitting a towering three-wood from 270 yards to 15 feet and then rolling the ball in for an eagle putt that put him in sole lead.
It all began with three birdies on the opening four holes as it seemed the Tiger of old had come alive. He missed a birdie from 12 feet on the par-5 sixth failing to find the fairway for the first time, and saved pars on the seventh and eighth.
Woods also birdied the 11th but then slowed down. He dropped his first shot of the day at the 12th and also on the last one, to finish a tad disappointed in what was otherwise an outstanding display. On the day, he sometimes misread the trickier and faster greens but shone on the par 5s.
At the end of Round Two, Hoffman had surged into the lead with five consecutive birdies on the closing holes, and 12 in total, at 12-under 132 (69, 63).
“Successful,” was how Woods described his round as the 14-time Major winner returns from a spinal fusion surgery, his fourth back operation in three years.
“After that 31 on the front nine I could have got more on the back nine.
“I had a difficult time all day with my speed on the greens — they seemed to be about a foot faster. They were dry, they were rolling out and I airmailed a few of them well past the hole. I really did struggle with my speed.
“(But) I proved that the surgery was successful, the rehab has been fantastic and now I have got a chance to go out there and play competitive golf again.”
Asked if he was close to getting back to his best, Woods said, “I am just getting back. I’ve still got a long way to go. That’s going to take time, a lot more practice, a lot more training and more tournaments.”
Hoffman led Open champion Jordan Spieth (67) and first-round leader Tommy Fleetwood (69) by three shots. Said Hoffman, “I said at the beginning of the week, I hope Tiger wins. It’s great for the game of golf.”
In the tied 5th place, Woods had the company of defending champion Hideki Matsuyama (66), Francesco Molinari (68), Matt Kuchar (67) and Rickie Fowler (67), while Justin Rose was four shots off the pace after a second successive 68....