Don’t look now, but it appears as if Tiger Woods is back.
Woods was brilliant Friday in the second round of the 2018 Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida, shooting a three-under 68 to bring his overall tournament score to four-under par. He was tied for first place at the conclusion of his round and showed flashes of the prime version of himself who was arguably the greatest golfer in the history of the sport.
What makes the showing even more impressive is the fact Woods doesn’t have extensive experience at this tournament. According to Christopher Powers of Golf Digest, Woods’ one-under 70 in the opening round Thursday was his first career round in the Valspar Championship.
The 42-year-old was one shot ahead of Paul Casey and Brandt Snedeker, who finished their second rounds at four-under par for the tournament, and Corey Conners, who was yet to tee off Friday, entering the last hole, but Woods missed a short putt and settled for his only bogey.
Woods is coming back from an extensive absence thanks largely to four back surgeries, and it would make sense at this stage if his rounds were more about making strides and looking comfortable on the golf course instead of dominating the field like he routinely did when he was in his prime.
But he did far more than just take strides Friday, roaring to the lead with four birdies and 13 pars in a head-turning round that saw him avoid any significant mistakes until his last hole, take advantage of scoring opportunities when they presented themselves and scramble when needed to save critical shots.
He started on the back nine and wasted little time establishing momentum with a scramble to save par on No. 10 to avoid an early letdown. Woods built from there, using beautiful approach shots on the 12th and 13th holes to set up easy birdie putts before settling into consistency with six straight pars.
While he notched his first two birdies largely because of his approach shots, his third came on No. 2 (his 11th hole) thanks to a combination of his approach and putting, drilling a mid-distance putt after finding the green in regulation.
The third birdie moved Woods into a tie for the lead, and Bob Harig of ESPN put the turnaround into perspective:
By then, Woods was in a groove and found the fairway off the tee on the par-five fifth (his 14th hole) and parlayed that into yet another birdie to seize a solo grasp on the lead.
The building momentum was clear as he connected on clutch par putts down the stretch of his round, much to the delight of the ever-growing galleries. For a moment, it was easy to be transfixed by Woods’ swings as he took the fans and viewers back to when he was appointment viewing as a singular force in the golf world.
He even had fellow golfers excited with the performance:
Legitimately competing for a tournament championship is yet another step for Woods on his journey back. The Honda Classic in late February marked the first time he played consecutive PGA Tour events since 2015, and he finished in 12th place after missing the cut at the Genesis Open the prior week.
The progression has continued at the Valspar Championship as he looks for his 80th PGA Tour title.
The 14-time major winner is just three Tour victories short of Sam Snead’s record 82 and is in contention for No. 80 through the first two rounds in Palm Harbor, Florida.
source: bleacherreport.com by SCOTT POLACEK