Tiger Woods played a six-hole stretch in seven-under par but followed with a back nine of even-par golf that left him three strokes ahead of the field on Friday after two rounds of the United States Tour Championship.
Tearing apart a defenceless course at East Lake Golf Club, Woods made five straight birdies and capped it with a 70-foot eagle putt on the par-five ninth hole to make the turn in 28. But he went five holes before his next birdie, and he had to settle for a seven-under 63 that had him three ahead of Woody Austin.
Woods was at 13-under 127, his best start to a tournament since he was 15-under through 36 holes at Firestone in 2000, which he went on to win by 11 shots.
Austin had his second straight 65 and will play in the final group on Saturday with Woods.
”He’s not hard to beat if you’re playing as well and you’re right there,” Austin said. ”But if you let him get in front of you, he’s hard to catch.”
In August, Austin suggested he outplayed Woods in the second round of the US PGA Championship, the day Woods tied a Major championship record with 63 and Austin shot 70.
Austin went on to finish second at Southern Hills, and he’ll get a chance to play with the world’s number one player on Saturday in presumably sunny conditions. Woods and 19 other players had to return on Friday morning to complete the first round, and he wound up playing 25 holes and finishing in time to beat the rumble of thunder.
Woods is atop the US PGA Tour’s ”play-off” standings. A victory would give him the FedEx Cup and the $10-million prize.
Steve Stricker, who needs to win to capture the cup, shot 67 and was nine shots behind. Phil Mickelson, who can only claim the FedEx Cup if he wins the Tour Championship and Woods finishes worse than second, was seven shots behind after a 66.
Only a half-dozen players were within five shots of Woods, who hasn’t lost a 36-hole lead in three years.
Tim Clark followed his record-tying 62 at East Lake with a 69 and was in the group at nine-under 131 that included defending champion Adam Scott (66) and Mark Calcavecchia (66). KJ Choi, still mathematically alive for the FedEx Cup, had a 65 and moved to eight-under 132 along with Sergio Garcia (64). — Sapa-AP