INZAI, CHIBA PREF. – Tiger Woods shot a second successive sumptuous 6-under par 64 Saturday and will go into Sunday’s rain-delayed third round at the Zozo Championship leading Gary Woodland by two shots.
The 15-time major winner lit up the back nine in 5-under 31 to take control on an empty Narashino Country Club course, closed to spectators for safety reasons after soaking up more than 150 mm of rain during Friday’s washout.
Woods bounced back from bogeying his opening three holes to shoot a mesmerizing 64 in Thursday’s first round, but he started steadily on Saturday and was 1-under at the turn before switching on the afterburners.
Three birdies in four holes from the 10th took him alongside clubhouse leader Woodland at 10-under.
“I’m surprised that I was able to score as well as I have, usually that takes a little bit of time,” Woods said. “But this golf course is a little bit on the softer side. I’ve been able to strike my irons pretty well this week so far and that’s been nice.”
Woods kept his foot down. The U.S. Masters champion smoked a massive drive down the long par-four 17th and his pinpoint approach from 154 yards left him a simple two-footer to take the solo lead.
He saw a 20-foot eagle putt slip by at the par-five 18th but tapped in for his seventh birdie and a two-round 12-under par total of 128.
U.S. Open champion Woodland admitted he had to dig deep to be in the final group for Sunday’s third round alongside Woods.
“It was a grind all day,” said the 35-year-old. “I didn’t have my best stuff today. Fortunately I made three big putts there on 16, 17 and 18 which was awesome.
“All in all, I’m happy to not have my best stuff and shoot four-under.
Friday’s postponed round finally began at 10 a.m. Saturday on a weather-ravaged course but under clear blue skies and bright sunshine helping to dry the turf.
A pond to the left of the 10th fairway had expanded into a lake under the sheer volume of rain, submerging the fairway.
It forced PGA Tour Rules and Competition officials to move the tee forward, and in a trice the 376-yard dogleg was reduced to just 140 yards, but kept its par-four status.
Early starter and local favourite Hideki Matsuyama immediately took advantage of the tiny 10th with an eagle two before finishing three under for the day and four shots back from Woods.
World No. 2 Rory McIlroy had a ragged 2-over 72 on Thursday but he too opened with an eagle at the 10th to get back to level par immediately.
A birdie four at the long 14th kept up the momentum and two more gains at 16 and 18 saw him turn in 31.
One more birdie followed but a sloppy five-foot miss for par after splashing out of a bunker on his final hole, meant he finished with a 65 to be 3-under for the tournament.
American Keegan Bradley stormed up the leaderboard with a 7-under 63, the best round of the week, to position himself well for the final two rounds at eight-under par.
“I made like a 30-footer for par on four or five and that really got me rolling and I made a bunch of putts after that,” said the 2011 U.S. PGA Championship winner.
The rescheduled third round will begin at 6.30 a.m. on Sunday and players will roll into the fourth round immediately after.
The field will play until darkness forces them from the course around 5 p.m. with the tournament concluding on Monday.
Woods is making his first start in his 23rd season on the PGA Tour, needing one victory to reach 82 wins and tie the career record held by Sam Snead.
Woods last played in an official tournament in Japan in 2006 at the Dunlop Phoenix, where he lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington. He won the Dunlop Phoenix the two previous years.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5