NEW PROVIDENCE, Bahamas — After Wednesday’s opening-round 72, one could hardly blame Tiger Woods for concluding that winning might not be in the plans this week at the Hero World Challenge. He was closer to the bottom of the leader board than the top, he’s playing tournament host and still finalizing logistical and strategic preparations for next week’s Presidents Cup, where he will captain and play for the American side.
But this is Tiger Woods we’re talking about. Winning is always in the plans.
Woods played himself back into contention on Thursday with a controlled, bogey-free 66 at Albany Golf Club to get to six under for the tournament. A back-nine 31 helped him equal the lowest overall round of the day. He'll enter the third round on Friday six shots back of another captain's pick, Patrick Reed, who shot a second-consecutive 66 to set the pace.
“It was a little bit easier today. Scoring conditions were a little bit better,” Woods said, contrasting a relatively calm afternoon (by Bahamian standards) with the 20-mile-per-hour winds that persisted all Wednesday.
Woods didn’t take advantage of the benign weather early. He struggled with his irons and hit just four of nine greens on the front nine, but a sharp chipping display allowed him to make the turn in one-under 35.
“I didn’t hit the ball as well as I’d like starting out. Missed a few greens, but other than No. 2, I missed every green in the correct spot, so I had easy chips. But I got it going on that back nine, which is nice.”
Woods made a three-perfect-shot eagle on the par-5 11th, including his best shot of the day—a pured long iron that fell gently left, bounced short of the green and rolled out to about four feet.
He added birdies at 12 and 14, and has now played the five-hole stretch from Nos. 11-15 in a combined nine under over the first two days.
On Wednesday, Woods’ opening round was derailed by a bogey/double-bogey finish. Albany’s closing hole, a 470-yard, slight-dogleg left par 4, with water all along the left side, usually plays downwind. Instead, it has played the opposite direction the first two days and proven especially difficult for Woods since the tournament moved here in 2015.
“It’s just a tough hole,” Woods said. “There are certain holes on a golf course, and I’m sure all of us who play, certain holes just don’t look right to our eye and just don’t feel good. Unfortunately, this is one of them.”
How good it must have felt, then, to play the hole as well as he did Thursday. Woods roasted a baby draw that found the center of the fairway, then hoisted a hard 6-iron way up in the air that found the left side of the green and left a slippery 15-footer for 65. The birdie effort slid by on the high side, but Woods’ 24th and final putt of the day was a tap-in for a 66 that took him and playing partner Bubba Watson—who jokingly lobbied for a spot on the charter to Australia—only three hours and 22 minutes.
“Any chance you get to play with him, and goof around with him, it’s fun. And then when you see him playing like that. His swing is right now is so smooth. It’s pretty nice to watch.”