Woods closes on Choi & Appleby
Host Tiger Woods birdied his last three holes to pounce back into contention at the PGA National but South Korean K.J. Choi and Australian Stuart Appleby were the men to catch after 36 holes.
Woods fired a four-under par 66, bouncing back from a 73 in his first PGA round as a father with Friday's low score, while Appleby and Choi each fired 67s to stand three strokes clear of rivals on seven-under 133 after two rounds.
"Lot of golf left," Woods said. "Hopefully tomorrow I can play a cleaner round and make just as many putts. I didn't think the lead would get too far. I figured if I was nine or eight back I would be fine."
Instead, Woods was six off the pace, sharing 12th in the debut edition of his new six million-dollar tour event at Congressional Country Club just two weeks after his wife Elin gave birth to daughter Sam Alexis.
"I at least gave myself a chance where if I play two good rounds I have a chance of winning the tournament, instead of having to play one great round or even two great rounds to get myself into that same position," Woods said.
World number one Woods began on the back nine and made a birdie at the 12th. He took a bogey at the 15th before responding with a birdie at the par-5 16th.
Woods birdied the first but gave the stroke back at the sixth, going over the green and dropping a clutch five-footer for bogey before his birdie binge, a 12-foot putt at seven, five-footer at the eighth and 12-footer at the ninth.
"I made that good save on six for bogey and then I just tried to keep that positive momentum going and I hit good shot after good shot on the last three holes, and lo and behold, three birdies in a row," Woods said.
Americans Billy Andrade, Craig Kanada and Robert Garrigus shared third on 136, one stroke ahead of compatriot Steve Stricker, sixth-ranked Vijay Singh of Fiji and Sweeden's Fredrik Jacobson, who has an eye on hard-charging Woods.
"He might have needed one day to get rid of whatever little rust he might have after having the baby and all that, but I think he's probably keen to go now and he'll probably make a move every day from here on," Jacobson said.
Woods added weight to his putter after a poor Thursday on the greens but found no sympathy from Andrade, who has not won a title in almost seven years.
"Maybe he should have had twins and he would have three-putted more," joked Andrade. "Most golfers might go through a funk six months and can't find a putting stroke, never mind six hours. I glad he found whatever he lost.
"He's obviously the best and he always comes back. He's always there, even when you don't think he's there. He's going to be lurking again. He will be right there at the end."
As a friend of Woods, Appleby knows what to expect with Tiger on the prowl.
"He's just going to focus on his game. He just knuckles down and does his thing and knows if he concentrates and puts himself in a position, that's going to apply pressure to everybody else," Appleby said.
"You see Tiger Woods on the leaderboard, you know he's not going to go backwards, so it's up to you to decide whether that's something to be worried about, because you know he doesn't give a rat's ass about what you're doing."
Appleby fired four birdies to keep himself in position to win his first US title since last year's Houston Open.
"My game feels good enough to win. I know the shots that have to be played. It's just a matter of executing," Appleby said. "It's a long way to go. It's not an easy course. You have to show a lot of respect."
Singh, a three-time major champion, figures US Open-ish conditions open the door for several outsiders to claim the 1.08 million-dollar top prize.
"I like my position," Singh said. "Two days to go and anything can happen. With this golf course, even five, six, seven back is not an issue going into the weekend. So a lot of pressure on the leaders.
"I'm just going to go out and play my game and see if I can catch them."
Choi birdied three of the first five holes but followed birdies at the par-5 ninth and 16th holes with bogeys on the next hole.
"I learned a lot from it today and I think it's going to help me plan my strategy for the weekend," Choi said.
Choi, 37, won last month's Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial tournament and could take another prestige event at Woods' debut event.
"Jack's tournament was very meaningful. If I win this tournament, it's going to be very meaningful to another level," Choi said.
Among 46 missing the cut were US Open winner Jose Coceres of Argentina on 149 and Phil Mickelson on 147 after a double bogey at the 16th. Mickelson will try to shake off rust before the British Open at next week's Scottish Open.