GRAND BLANC TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Tiger Woods had the best five-hole start of his career, chipping in for eagle and making four birdies.
Woods finished with a season-low 9-under 63 Friday in the Buick Open to shoot up the leaderboard. The round was his best round in relation to par in four years.
Just when it looked as if he was claiming temporary ownership of the mercurial game, though, he was reminded that’s impossible on his sixth hole.
The savvy Woods saw stronger wind coming as he looked at trees in the distance, buying time by tossing blades of grass up in the air twice and stepping out of his stance two times.
When Woods finally hit his approach, a gust of wind knocked down his ball and sent it to sand.
“That was the best swing I’ve made,” he said. “I hit the shot absolutely perfect.
“It was a low, fading 5-iron and I thought it was going to be 4 or 5 feet of the hole. Actually, I was in a bunker. It was just kind of ironic.”
Woods was coming off what he said was probably the worst putting day of his career on Thursday, leading to a lackluster 71 in his first competitive round since missing the cut at the British Open.
He quickly clawed back into contention with his birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie tear and finished the day 10 under for the tournament.
John Senden shot a 66 to take the second-round lead at 14 under, two shots ahead of Michael Letzig (65) and another stroke in front of Vaughn Taylor (68) and Bill Lunde (65).
Woods entered the weekend four strokes back in a pack of six, including Kevin Stadler, who shot his second straight 67.
Senden is shooting for his second PGA Tour title and first in three years. The Australian has four top-10 finishes this season, including a pair of fourth-place ties.
“This year, I’ve been moving in the right direction,” Senden said. “I just need to focus and do my stuff.
“I need to continue with that attitude knowing possibly 20, 22 under is going to win the event.”
The average winning score has been almost 21 under since 2000 at Warwick Hills, one of the easiest courses on the PGA Tour.
Woods, making his ninth Buick Open appearance, usually takes advantage of the relatively short course with smooth-rolling greens that don’t have many undulations.
His sensational start surpassed the 5 under he had on his first five holes in 2006 – the same ones he had his way with Friday at Nos. 10-14 – when he went on to win his second Buick Open and his 50th PGA Tour title.
He had his best round, in relation to par, since an 11-under 61 at the 2005 Buick Open, when he also opened with a 71. His last 63 helped him repeat at the 2007 PGA Championship.
The previous seven times Woods had a second-round 63, he went on to win the tournament.
Woods teed off early Friday morning, hitting his first drive 342 yards straight into the blinding sun. His jaw-dropping start removed the remote chance he would miss the cut in consecutive events for the first time as a pro and awed at least one of the players in his group.
“It’s hard to concentrate on your own game when you’re playing with anyone that plays as well as he did. I don’t care who it is,” said Jonathan Byrd, who shot a 71 to make the cut at 4 under. “Unfortunately, it didn’t help me play any better, but I enjoyed watching him play today.”
He wasn’t the only one.
As usual, Woods provided the most entertainment when he got out of trouble with his talent and guts.
At the 544-yard, par-5 13th – his fourth hole of the day – Woods’ drive left him on the right side of the fairway behind a huge maple tree.
“I could have just pitched out sideways and left myself probably a 7-iron or 8-iron in there,” he said. “I got a little bit aggressive.”
It worked out.
He cut a 5-iron around perhaps the biggest tree at Warwick Hills, chipped onto the green from 50 feet and made about a 10-foot putt for birdie.
Woods eagled the 340-yard, par-4 12th, hitting a chip from about 40 yards that bounced on the green and landed in the cup.
“It was kind of luck,” he said. “I hit it too hard, but somehow it caught the bottom.”
John Daly almost hit rock bottom with an 88, his worst score ever in a regular PGA Tour event. He finished at 20-over 160.
Chris DiMarco (75) missed the 4-under cut – the lowest this season on the PGA Tour – by a stroke. Scott Verplank (75) was six shots away from making it to the weekend after finishing in the top 10 in his last three tournaments.