Nassau (Bahamas) (AFP) – Tiger Woods evoked memories of his glory days by firing a bogey-free seven-under-par 65 Friday at the Hero World Challenge in his second comeback round after a 16-month back surgery layoff.
Former world number one Woods, a 14-time major champion, thrilled about 200 spectators at the 18-man invitational event he hosts at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas to finish 36 holes on six-under 138.
“It feels great,” Woods said. “I moved myself up the board.”
Woods teed off first but alone and in last place Friday after England’s Justin Rose withdrew. Rose, an Albany resident who captured Olympic gold at Rio in August, pulled out with a bad back after shooting a 74 Thursday.
Woods, who has slid to 898th in the rankings, shot a 73 Thursday to end the longest layoff of his career after 466 days, then excited those looking for signs he might regain the form that once dominated the sport.
After a run of five birdies in seven holes that began at the par-5 ninth, where he made bogey Thursday, Woods made clutch pars at 16 and 18 after double bogeys on each in round one.
Woods, who turns 41 later this month, began Friday in cloudy conditions and promptly birdied the 423-yard first hole, hitting a wedge approach four feet from the cup.
At the par-5 sixth, Woods hammered a tee shot into the fairway but his approach went left into sand. He chipped to 12 feet and sank the birdie putt.
Woods rescued par with a six-foot putt at the eighth after pulling his tee shot, then reached the 603-yard par-5 ninth, the course-longest hole that Woods bogeyed Thursday to launch a downward spiral.
This time, Woods found the fairway twice and dropped his third shot two feet from the hole, tapping in for a front-nine 33 to match his Thursday start but doing so in bogey-free fashion and in less than 90 minutes.
Woods lipped out a 25-foot birdie putt at 10 and settled for par, then made a tap-in birdie at the par-5 11th, another hole where he made bogey Thursday.
The ball rolled to a stop inches from the cup at the par-3 12th to set up another tap-in birdie for Woods.
“I couldn’t hit it any better than that one,” Woods said.
He curled in a 10-foot birdie putt at the 14th and tapped-in for birdie at the par-5 15th to reach seven under for the round.
– Clutch putts sustain spark –
Woods sent his tee shot right of the fairway at 16 and behind a bush in rocky sand. He blasted out into more sand but gave himself a 20-foot par putt and rolled it into the cup, pumping his right fist and smacking the putter blade to celebrate.
“That was big, to not go down a shot and not lose any momentum,” Woods said.
At 18, Woods was right of the green with his approach but putted three feet past the cup and made the putt to end his best round in the event since 2013 after only two hours and 54 minutes.
“Those are big par putts to make,” Woods said.
Starting solo was not a first for Woods, who went off first and alone in the final round of last year’s Memorial tournament after firing a career-worst 85 the day before. Woods shot a two-over 74 in that solo effort.
Until Thursday, Woods had not played a competitive round since August 2015, when he shared 10th at the PGA Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina.
He has not won an event since the 2013 World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone and has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open.
Woods, whose 79 career titles are three shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record, stages the benefit event for his charity foundation on a 7,302-yard Caribbean layout at an remote billionaires enclave. The field features six of the world’s top-10 players over an Ernie Els-designed course with native sand and brush lurking for wayward shots.