Tiger Woods has shown some of his old magic, but he has two more rounds to prove he's finally back
As usual, it's all about Tiger.
Right now there is meaningful golf being played in Hong Kong and Sun City and Palm Springs and Daytona Beach, but Tiger Woods's ongoing resurgence is the only story that matters.
That Woods is leading halfway through the Chevron World Challenge is less impressive than how he's doing it. During Friday's second round he played his most electric golf in months, if not years. He made two eagles and damn near a third, but even that doesn't entirely tell the story. Woods summoned some vintage magic on a blustery day, pulling off a series of near-impossible shots and reminding everyone of the player he was before his personal life was torn asunder, his body betrayed him and yet another swing change left him looking stiff and befuddled over the ball. A 67 at Sherwood Country Club was the worst he could have shot, and yet it was still tied for the low round of the day.
"To put it simply, today he played like an artist," said K.J. Choi, Woods's second round playing partner.
The signature moment of Woods's high-wire round came on the par-5 second hole, when a wayward drive left him on the side of a hill, under a tree. The only sensible play was to layup, but instead Woods slashed a 5-iron over the water to within four feet of a front pin. It was more than a golf shot. It was a statement.
The Woods legend — and brand — has been so diminished over the last two years it's easy to forget how thrilling a performer he was in the pre-fire hydrant era. Some of the veteran players in this elite 18-man field still remember.
Says Matt Kuchar, who is tied for second with Choi, three strokes behind Woods, "I always thought as a player ... you want to test yourself against the very best, [and] it seemed like, man, if you could go toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods and have a chance to beat him, that's a real feather in your cap. And you want his best. You don't want to see him struggling and missing cuts. That's no fun to say, `I beat Tiger Woods. He missed the cut and I had a 15th-place finish.' You want him at his best going toe-to-toe coming down to the wire. It's fun to see him at that point."
Of course, Tiger has repeatedly teased us over the last two winless years, including at the 2010 World Challenge, when he blew a four-stroke lead. Just last month he was leading through 36 holes at the Australian Open but blew-up on Saturday. Woods knows that all the good buzz he's created will disappear if he can't convert this lead into a victory. It may be a process — that's been his mantra since last year — but the greatest golfer of all time doesn't need any more moral victories. As Woods said on Friday, "I want the lead after four days. Two days is nice, but four is even better."
And to do it now would be the best-case scenario for the sport, putting an exclamation point on a satisfying season while removing the biggest question mark in golf. Is Woods back? Friday's pyrotechnics were a pretty strong indicator. But now comes the hard part.