PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Nine hundred and thirty days.
That’s how long it had been since Tiger Woods, who once made tournament victories a regular occurrence, had held a lead in an official PGA Tour event. It all changed Friday.
A birdie on his 11th hole in the second round of the Valspar Championship elevated Woods into a share of the lead, and another three holes later lifted him into sole possession of that position. It was temporary, but still gratifying.
The biggest difference for Woods was that he eliminated the mistakes which had plagued his three previous starts this year, posting a 3-under 68 that followed an opening-round 70. Friday ended with Woods part of a five-way tie for second place at 4-under 138, two shots behind leader Corey Conners.
“I’m up there,” Woods said at the conclusion of his early-morning start, a round that included no bogeys until the final hole. “At least I’m there with a chance going into the weekend. Today was a good day.”
The statistics don’t appear overwhelming: He hit eight of 13 fairways and 11 of 18 greens in regulation during the second round. But on a difficult Innisbrook course in chilly early-morning conditions, it was enough to help climb a leaderboard that doesn’t show too many low scores.
“I just need to get a little bit more tournament time in,” explained Woods, who hadn’t held the lead in a full-field event since the 2015 Wyndham Championship. “I think I’ve done that and I’m starting to get a better feel for it. I’m figuring the rhythm of the rounds. I’m hitting the shots. I don’t have a problem posting scores. I’m able to play more feel golf, just trying to figure out how to play golf again.”
Woods played just a single PGA Tour event last year, then underwent a fourth back surgery, this one a fusion procedure which he says has alleviated any pain. In three previous starts this season, his best finish was a share of 12th place at the Honda Classic two weeks ago.
“I thought I had a shot at Honda with a few holes to go,” he said. “Instead of making birdies coming in, I made some mistakes. But to play myself into contention this early into it was nice, and on top of that to build on what I did a week ago, I feel comfortable out there.”
The result will leave Woods in contention this weekend for his first tournament title in more than 4½ years, roughly the same time between wins as Phil Mickelson, who finally clinched another this past Sunday.
After that victory, Mickelson stated that he wanted to get one under his belt before next month’s Masters. When asked whether he felt a similar internal pressure, Woods downplayed the idea.
“I’m not looking at it like that,” Woods said. “I hadn’t played. He’s been playing the last four, five years. I haven’t. So that’s two totally scenarios. He’s been there with a bunch of chances to win, played really well, where I’m just starting again.”
Competing in this tournament for the first time in his 23-year professional career, Woods is still seeking his 80th career PGA Tour title, which would move him to within two of all-time leader Sam Snead. Woods’ last victory came at the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
In a show of the hold Woods still has on the golf spotlight, fans crashed the PGA Tour’s app.
In a statement, the organization said: “Unprecedented traffic during the second round of the Valspar Championship resulted in roughly 25 percent of PGA TOUR LIVE (PGATOURLIVE.COM) subscribers losing connection for approximately 25 minutes. We apologize for the disruption and are working to eliminate such issues in the future.”