Tiger Woods moves closer to first win in 5 years at Tour Championship

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Tiger Woods moves closer to first win in 5 years at Tour Championship

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods moves closer to first win in 5 years at Tour Championship

ATLANTA — Tiger Woods said after his opening-round 65 on Thursday that his objective at the start of the year was to win a golf tournament. He used to do that with regularity. Woods has hoisted the hardware 79 times on the PGA Tour, but he has not won since coming back from multiple back surgeries.

As he played East Lake Golf Club for the first time in five years Thursday and his name moved up the leaderboard, it was hard to tell who wanted Tiger to win more, the man himself or the massive crowd that walked with him from hole to hole.

When Tiger does win, and lately it has felt a lot more like “when” instead of “if,” it will complete one of the biggest comebacks in golf’s history. It will also create a moment that some fans will brag about for decades. Over the years, millions of people will claim that they were at the course when Tiger finally won again, even though most tour venues, like East Lake, only get around 20,000 people in attendance each day.

Friday, during the second round of the Tour Championship, Tiger’s game was off. Drives and iron shots that found their targets in the first round instead ended up in the rough or farther from the hole through the front nine.

Walking to the 10th tee, Woods looked pissed. Three-putt bogeys will do that. But then, after saving par on 10 and 11, Woods got on a roll and gave the fans in Atlanta hope that they might be the lucky ones who get those elusive bragging rights.

Birdies on 12, 14, 15 and 18 gave Woods a 2-under 68 on Friday that looked for a while like it might be a 73. He goes into Saturday tied for the lead with Justin Rose, the game’s newly-minted No. 1 player, who shot 67.

Rory McIlroy, who also shot 68, is third and two shots behind Woods and Rose. Patrick Cantlay and Billy Horschel, the 2014 FedEx Cup champion, shot 65s to reach 4 under, three shots behind the leaders. They are joined in a tie for fourth with Jon Rahm (68) and Justin Thomas (69).

“The best way to describe it is I ground out a round today,” Woods said.

The 14-time major winner appeared drained while talking to the media. With temperatures in the high 80s and East Lake being a hilly course, that’s understandable. It also took a lot of Woods, mentally, to keep his round together.

“Rounds like today are hard, and they’re hard mentally because you have to grind it out,” Woods said. “It’s easy to shoot low scores when you’re sharp. It’s a little bit more difficult to post a low number when I’m off. I was able to do that today, kept myself in the tournament.”

The key for Tiger when he has to manage his game is to miss into the right spots. When he misses a fairway, leaving the ball in a place where he has an angle for his next shot is a lot better than missing equally far from his target and putting the ball where he has to scramble to make bogey.

For example, on the 401-yard third hole, Woods played an iron off the tee and missed the fairway to the left by about five paces. Had he lost that shot to the right, his ball would have gone into a fairway bunker, and his angle to the back-right hole location would have been lousy. Because the miss was manageable, Tiger’s approach shot landed 39 feet from the hole and he saved par.

“You get out of position, and you just can’t get the ball close,” he said.

While Tiger’s driver and iron game were off on Friday, his putter was hot. He drained a 17-footer for birdie on 14 and then a 24-foot putt on 15 to briefly take the outright lead at 8 under before plugging his second shot into the face of a fairway bunker on 16, leading to a double bogey.

While sports fans will be buzzing at the thought of Woods winning the last PGA Tour event of the season tomorrow, the two-time FedEx Cup champion knows there is a lot of work to do.

“I was a few back in that British Open and got the lead there, just kind of playing my own game and doing it my way and hanging in there,” he said. “This is a tough golf course. A lot of pars are going to be made out here. That’s basically what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make a bunch of pars and sprinkle in a few birdies here and there.”

If Woods can hit a few more fairways this weekend and keep making timely putts, those pars and birdies should keep coming, and your friend with the 404 area code might call to relay a story about where he was on Sunday.

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