It wasn't exactly the shot heard around the world, but Tiger Woods struck a blow on the par-5 eighth hole at the Australian Open on Friday that might have long-lasting ramifications.
A 3-wood, a hanging lie, a stiff headwind and a pumping gallery were the bit players. Woods's new swing was the star of the show as he took the 36-hole lead. And for the first time since his split with former coach Hank Haney, his swing withstood the fiercest test.
Afterwards, Woods was bullish without being cocky as he tacked a five-under-par 67 to his opening 68 to sit at nine under and lead by one, just four days shy of the second anniversary of his last victory, at the 2009 JBWere Masters in Melbourne.
When asked about his second shot on the 550-yard par-5 eighth hole, which was playing markedly longer than a day earlier when Adam Scott had an albatross hitting downwind, Woods's face lit up.
"It felt goooood," he said with a smile rarely seen in two tumultuous years of personal crises, injuries and swing rebuilds.
"I had 247 [yards to the] front, wind howling in my face. It was ever so slightly off the left and a slightly hanging lie,” Woods said."I had to start it [at] the [left] bunker and just hammer it — and I did. It slid about three yards. It was the best shot I’ve hit so far [with my new swing in competition]."
Playing partner Jason Day, who dumped a similar length shot into that bunker, later confessed to "just standing there going, 'Wow'" as Woods’s ball rolled to within 20 feet.
Woods missed the eagle putt, one of many near-misses in a round he said could have been even better. Starting his round on the 10th hole, he drained a 30-plus-foot birdie bomb on his first hole. By the time Woods birdied four of the closing six holes on his outward nine, the crowd — estimated by veteran aficionados as the biggest ever at a Sydney tournament — knew they were witnessing something special.
Woods made his first bogey in his opening 30 holes on the third and narrowly missed dodging a bullet when he was twice in the sand on the sixth, making bogey there as well.But those blemishes were countered by birdies on the fourth and his mighty effort on the eighth.
"I didn't really miss a shot," he said. "I hit so many lips, it could easily have been eight or nine under.It feels good to be hitting it properly. I'm able to move the ball both ways similar to what I used to do a long time ago."
He leads Peter O'Malley, a member of host club The Lakes, after the veteran Aussie carded a bogey-free 66 — the round of the day — to vault to eight under.
Day, living out his childhood dream of playing with his hero in front of a home crowd, didn't disappoint, either.The highest-ranked International player for next week's Presidents Cup peeled off a 68 to stay within two of Woods.
Bubba Watson salvaged an ordinary day for the other American team members, who are here preparing for the Royal Melbourne showdow.
Watson, a crowd favorite, had been three over at one stage, but he nailed three straight closing birdies — and five on the back nine — to rescue a 70 and move to fourth outright at six under.
Compatriot Nick Watney led early after an eagle on his second hole — the 11th — but eventually paid the price for his erratic putting , leaking bogeys coming home en route to a 73 and a share of fifth at five under with Aussies Matthew Jones, Greg Chalmers, Rohan Blizard and first-round leader Jarrod Lyle.
Dustin Johnson struggled in the strong afternoon winds and shot a 75 to be three under, the same total as Fred Couples (74). Bill Haas improved as his round wore and carded a grinding 71 to sit one under, while David Toms was less than impressed with his game after shooting 73 to finish one over, just inside the cut at two over.
One stroke on the wrong side of that mark was Matt Kuchar, who has been visibly out of sorts with his game this week. But an even bigger concern for American Presidents Cup captain Couples is Hunter Mahan, who pulled out of the tournament with a neck injury on Friday.
Couples said after his round that he fully expects Steve Stricker to be in Melbourne by Sunday and raring to go, but Mahan is an unexpected blip on his radar. Couples said Mahan expects to be fully fit for the Presidents Cup, but he will have ongoing physiotherapy this weekend to make sure he's good to go when the biennial team event begins on Thursday.