AUGUSTA, United States (AFP) –Tiger Woods thrilled Augusta National by leaping into contention in Friday’s second round of the Masters, firmly putting himself in the hunt for a historic 15th major title and fifth green jacket.
The 43-year-old American superstar fired a dramatic four-under par 68 to share sixth place on six-under 138 through 36 holes, one stroke behind a record Masters lead logjam of five co-leaders – all of them major winners – on seven-under 137.
“It was fun,” Woods said. “I felt like I left a few shots out there. It was a solid day. I tried to grind it out there.”
Reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari, last year’s British Open and PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka, Australians Jason Day and Adam Scott and South African Louis Oosthuizen all shared the midway lead.
But their feats were all eclipsed by Woods, who signaled he would be a threat to capture his first major title since the 2008 US Open and first Masters title since 2005 – astonishing after years of knee and back injuries that made him doubt if he would ever play competitively again.
“After three knee surgeries and four back surgeries, I’m great,” Woods said.
Woods returned from spinal fusion surgery last year and contended at the British Open and PGA Championship then snapped a five-year US PGA Tour win drought at the Tour Championship and stretched his comeback story again Friday with no health issues after great play on one of golf’s biggest stages.
“The last two major championships I’ve been right there,” Woods said. “All of a sudden I’m here at the Masters.”
While Woods settled for being in a pack one adrift with second-ranked Dustin Johnson, fellow American Xander Schauffele and South African Justin Harding, there was no doubt he was the star to crowds glued to his every move.
After two early birdies and a bogey, Woods missed an eight-foot par putt at the par-5 eighth hole and seemed destined for an unspectacular round.
What followed was vintage Woods and brought back chilling roars harkening to his 1997 “Tigermania” first major win.
37-FOOT BIRDIE PUTT
Woods sank a 37-foot birdie putt at the ninth, dropped in a 13-footer for birdie at 11, then lipped out a birdie chance at the par-3 12th after a storm delay.
At 14, Woods escaped trees left of the fairway, put his approach to 28 feet and holed the testy putt to reach five-under.
After Woods hit his second shot, a security guard slipped on muddy ground and slid into Woods’s right foot, causing a few fearful moments before the superstar tested his ankle and walked on unharmed.
”It is what it is,” Woods said. ”Accidents happen. We move on. I’m good.”
At the par-5 15th, Woods curled in a 30-footer for birdie, punctuated with a right fist pump to put himself one stroke off the lead.
His five putts made from beyond 20 feet over two days are two more than any rival.
Woods missed an eight-foot birdie putt to par 17 and missed a 14-footer for birdie at 18.
That left him just shy of the biggest co-leader pack ever after 36 holes at the Masters, the five one more than in 2017 and 1973 — each time the eventual winner coming from the top foursome.
Oosthuizen made seven birdies in shooting a 66. Day fired 67 after tweaking his back Thursday.
Seventh-ranked Molinari fired a bogey-free 67, the lowest score of his 26 career rounds at Augusta National, where his best finish was a share of 19th in 2012.
Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, eagled the par-5 15th to reach eight-under but a bogey at 16 dropped him back into the pack.
Koepka fired a 71 despite a double-bogey disaster at the par-5 second hole, birdies at 15 and 18 salvaging a sub-par round.
MCILROY 7 ADRIFT
Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, seeking a green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam, fired a 71 to stand seven back on 144.
US left-hander Phil Mickelson, who at 48 would become the oldest major champion in golf history with a win, shot 73 in his 100th career Masters round to stand three off the lead.
World number one Justin Rose missed the cut for the first time in 14 Augusta appearances at 148 after a second-round 73. Sergio Garcia also missed the weekend.