Woods builds a big lead at Chevron World Challenge

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December 02, 2011
PGA TOUR staff

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) -- Tiger Woods knows he's playing better than he has in the last two years, and he has the leaderboard to prove it.

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Woods hit a half-dozen extraordinary shots Friday in the Chevron World Challenge on his way to a 5-under 67, giving him a three-shot lead over Matt Kuchar and K.J. Choi going into the weekend at Sherwood Country Club.

It was the second straight tournament that Woods had the 36-hole lead. Three weeks ago at the Australian Open, he was one shot ahead until a 75 in the third round. Woods wound up in third place at The Lakes, his best finish of the year.

With each round, it looks as though his best might not be too far behind.

Woods had two eagles, and nearly had a third with a flop shot from behind the 13th green that he was still talking about long after his round. Not even a double bogey on the par-3 15th hole when a gust knocked his ball into the water could keep him from a comfortable lead after two rounds.

"I want the lead after four days," said Woods, winless in his last 26 official starts dating to the Australian Masters in November 2009. "Two days is nice, but four days is even better. I know I'm playing better, and it's nice to see my position on the leaderboard equating to it.

"Two stroke-play events in a row I've played really well."

Woods was at 8-under 136 and will play in the final group Saturday with Kuchar, who still is trying to figure out how to finish off a good day at Sherwood.

At least this time, Kuchar only came up short and into the water on the 18th for a bogey. In the opening round, he was two shots out of the lead until a triple bogey on the 16th and a bogey on the 17th sent him to a 72. Kuchar played well again as the wind arrived in the middle of the round, and shot 67 to match Woods and Zach Johnson for the best score of the day.

"I always thought as a player, if you had a chance ... and you want to test yourself against the very best, 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," Kuchar said. "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.

"And it's fun to see him at that point."

Choi had a three-shot lead over Woods through six holes and was staying with him until hitting in the water twice on the par-3 15th, taking a quadruple-bogey 7. Choi bounced back with a birdie and salvaged a 73.

He's still very much in the mix, though Choi saw what he might be up against on the weekend.

"To put it simply, today he played like an artist," Choi said about Woods. "It's pretty clear that he's really recovered and is back in his old form again, and he missed a few putts, but it was really good to see him play well."

Johnson and Hunter Mahan (68) were four shots behind at 4-under 140 in the 18-player tournament.

Shot of the Day

Watch Tiger Woods' approach on No. 2.

Woods' only bad hole was the 15th, where he had no complaints about the shot. He hit an 8-iron just like he wanted, then could only hope that the wind swirling through that corner of the small canyon left the ball alone. It didn't. He went into the water and missed his bogey putt.

Despite a double bogey, Woods wound up expanding his lead on that hole because of Choi's mishap.

"Not exactly how I envisioned ... increasing my lead," Woods said. "But no, I hit a sweet shot in there. Unfortunately, I caught the wrong gust at the right time. There was nothing I could do."

There wasn't much wrong with the rest of his day.

On the par-5 second hole, Woods was on the side of the hill under a tree when he hit a 5-iron with a fade over the water to a front pin. He skipped sideways down the hill and clutched his fist about shoulder-high when the ball plopped down 4 feet from the cup. It's rare for anyone, much less Woods, to show that kind of emotion on the second hole on a Friday. The shot was that good, and there was more to come.

His one bad swing on the par-5 fifth was a snap hook into the trees, and he was lucky to find the ball to punch out. From 257 yards to an elevated green, Woods hit a 3-wood left of the flag, and it caught the slope and rolled to 4 feet. What looked like a possible bogey turned into an unlikely birdie chance, until he missed the putt.

He three-putted the next hole as Choi began to retake the lead, but Woods caught him with a 4-iron to about 15 feet for eagle on No. 11, followed by a 12-foot birdie putt on the next hole and that flop shot that stopped a turn from dropping on No. 13 that left him a tap-in birdie.

Woods had a four-shot lead at the Chevron World Challenge last year, and kept that lead all the way into the final round until Graeme McDowell caught him on Sunday and beat him in a playoff. Woods has said he only had one shot that day, though now he appears to have any shot he wants.

He has shot in the 60s in eight of his last nine rounds, dating to the second round of the Frys.com Open. Even so, Woods is only halfway home to ending the longest drought of his career. Kuchar, meanwhile, is coming off a OMEGA Mission Hills World Cup win with Gary Woodland and was happy to have a chance. There was a time when Woods was five shots clear, and it looked as though the final official event of the year in America could be a two-man race between Woods and Choi.

About the leader: Tiger Woods
• Tournament host Tiger Woods carded a 5-under 67 on Friday to take a three-stroke lead over Matt Kuchar (67) and first-round leader K.J. Choi (73) at the midway point of the Chevron World Challenge.
• Woods had two eagles on Friday (Nos. 2 & 11). The last time he performed that feat on the PGA TOUR was during a final-round 3-under 69 at the 2010 Masters (Nos. 7 & 15). He finished T4 that year along with Choi.
• In the 12 previous playings of the Chevron World Challenge, the second-round leader/co-leader has gone on to win four times. Woods carried the second-round lead/co-lead to victory in 2004, 2006 and 2007, with Tom Lehman doing so in 1999.
• A year ago at the Chevron World Challenge, Woods held a four-stroke lead over Graeme McDowell after the second and third rounds before finishing runner-up.
• On the PGA TOUR, the last time Woods held the lead after any round was at The Barclays in 2010, where he carried a share of the first-round lead to a T12 finish. The last time he led following the second round came at the 2009 TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola (finished runner-up).
• Most recently, Woods held the second-round lead in mid-November at the Australian Open following a second-round 5-under 67. He finished third.
• With rounds of 69-67, Woods has now opened with two rounds in the 60s at the Chevron World Challenge eight times in 11 starts. The only exceptions came in 1999 (65-70), 2003 (71-71) and 2005 (72-72).
• Woods' best score in Chevron World Challenge history is a second-round 62 in 2007.
• Woods (2001, 2004, 2006 and 2007) and Jim Furyk (2009) are the only former champions of the Chevron World Challenge in the field this year. They currently stand first and T9 respectively.
• Woods is seeking his ninth top-2 finish in 11 starts at this event. He finished 10th in 1999 and T14 in 2005.

"I had it going yesterday, had it going today," Kuchar said. "It's been a good stretch for me the last couple weeks. I felt like I certainly could throw my hat there in the ring and then hope to try to catch them. I'm still a couple shots back, but with 36 holes to play, got some time to catch up."

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