The 14-time major champion, who was among the early morning starters at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney today, made seven birdies to move to 9-under-par through 36 holes, a one-shot lead over Australia’s Peter O’Malley.
It’s the first time that Woods, who hasn’t won a title since the 2009 Australian Masters, headed the leaderboard after any round since holding a three-shot advantage going into the final day of the 2010 Chevron World Challenge in December.
“It feels good that I am there playing properly,” Woods, 35, said in a news conference. “I really played well. Even though I shot five under today it felt like it could easily have been 8 or 9 deep.”
After posting a bogey-free 68 in gusts yesterday, Woods opened his second round with a birdie at the par-4 10th in calm conditions. He added birdies at the 13th, 14th, 16th and 18th holes to surpass overnight leader Jarrod Lyle.
Playing with Australians Jason Day and Robert Allenby in a group cheered on by galleries that were six people deep in places, Woods mixed two birdies with two bogeys on his last nine holes to go one shot clear of Lakes member O’Malley, who carded the best round of the day with a 6-under-par 66. Day is a shot back at 7-under par, with Bubba Watson of the U.S. at 6-under.
A 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 ninth hole that would have taken Woods to 10-under stopped an inch short. Lyle, who resumed at 7-under in the afternoon, slipped to 5-under after firing five bogeys and three birdies in his second round.
Woods, who entered the Australian Open as the 7-1 favorite with local bookmaker Tabcorp Holdings Ltd. (TAH) even though his last victory was two years ago, said he still understands what it takes to win and is trying to transfer the confidence he’s gained in practice to tournament play.
“It’s gonna be a tough couple of days,” Woods said. “The wind is supposed to blow. It’ll be a fun test. We’ll see what happens.”
For the past 15 months, Woods has been working on changing his swing with new coach Sean Foley, a process the former top- ranked golfer said had been hampered by knee and ankle injuries. The combination of good health and hard work are starting to pay off, he said.
“It takes a little time but once it starts coming the confidence starts building,” said Woods, who’s fallen to 58th in the Official World Golf Ranking. “I have been healthy enough to get my reps in. I have basically come out and played like I was playing at home.”
Woods finished in a tie for 30th in his most recent start at the Frys.com Open in California five weeks ago and his best finish this year was tying for fourth at April’s Masters Tournament, where he shared the lead during the final round.
His form today made an impression on his playing partners.
Day, who turns 24 tomorrow and said he had posters of Woods on his bedroom wall growing up, said that “everything is starting to patch together” with Woods’s game. Allenby, 40, said Woods was “on his way back” to his best and picked him as the likely winner of the Stonehaven Cup in two days.
“Where he is right now is good enough,” Allenby, who missed the cut for the final two rounds, told reporters. “I think you’ll find if he keeps going the way he is going, he’ll win over the weekend.”
Following the Australian Open, Woods is scheduled to play next week’s Presidents Cup in Melbourne and then the Dec. 1-4 Chevron World Challenge, a tournament he hosts in California.
“He is hitting the ball very, very solid,” Day said of Woods. “He has a lot of momentum going into the next two days. He looks like he is controlling the ball pretty well.”
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