Tiger Woods experienced a fast start but a slow finish for the second consecutive day at the 2023 Hero World Challenge. Firing a 2-under 70 in the second round at Albany, Woods nearly made up for his opening 75 and now finds himself at 1 over for the tournament. The 15-time major champion was in a share of 14th and eight off the leader, Jordan Spieth, as he stepped off the 18th green.
Woods' 70 represents his first under-par round in competition since the third round of the 2023 Genesis Invitational. On Friday, Tiger had everything going in his favor physically as his gait smoothed, driver cooperated and iron play progressed. In between the ears, however, remained a different story.
"I cleaned it up a little bit from yesterday," said Woods. "I didn't quite have the finish I would like to have. I missed a couple putts coming in and made a couple little mistakes. Overall, it was a better start … better commitment, I kept it going with that today. I just wish I made a couple more putts to keep the round going."
Woods' day began in blazing fashion as he sizzled a wedge shot on his opening hole inside 10 feet before converting the birdie effort. Another birdie followed on the par-3 2nd as he maneuvered an iron from right-to-left to access a somewhat guarded pin. The putter was humming, and a turkey of birdies appeared likely as he stepped to the easiest hole on the golf course.
Similar to Thursday, however, Woods was not at his best on the par 5s in his second round. After finding the fairway, Woods hit his second into the greenside bunker and was unable to get up-and-down. He made up for a bogey in Round 1 on No. 6 with a birdie in Round 2 and added another on the short par-4 7th to reach 1 under for the tournament and 4 under for his round.
Five straight pars, including a pair on the par-5 9th and par-5 11th, saw Woods arrive at the par-4 13th in red figures. Only then did the mental mistakes -- although not as penalizing as Round 1 -- begin to materialize as the 47-year-old blasted his 14-foot birdie bid well past and was unable to clean up for par.
A short miss for birdie on 14 squashed the idea of an immediate bounce-back, but the thought of additional scoring was still on the mind as the par-5 15th lurked. Making double bogey on Thursday due to a wayward drive, Woods split the fairway before inexplicably taking on a tucked left pin with 9 iron in hand.
Short-siding himself, Woods was unable to put his third close and compounded mistakes when he putted his fourth off the green and back into the greenside bunker from which he had just came down. He did well to save bogey, but it marked another disappointing effort on a par 5 as he moved to 1 over on those 10 holes and 1 over for the tournament.
Woods exchanged a bogey on 16 for a birdie on 17, and added one last par on 18 to put the final touches on his 2-under 70. All things considered, it was another successful day for Woods despite a poor stretch in his back nine.
"I've played two tournaments all year. I'm rusty," said Woods. "This golf course will bring that out of you a little bit. Some of the pin locations ... you can run the table here or you can go the other way very quickly. Unfortunately, I just haven't finished off my last two rounds the way I would like to and I've got two more days to improve."
The tournament host appeared much more comfortable walking around the par 72 and flashed brilliance with his long game. He connected on 10 of 13 fairways with a pair of his misses coming on the par-4 7th when he attempted to drive the green and the 18th when his ball ran through the fairway. This accuracy was met with some pop in the bat as well with his drive on the 15th touching nearly 370 yards.
The signs of Woods' game are there, but he remains rusty from a mental standpoint, which is understandable given his lack of reps. Missing short putts, not taking advantage of scoring opportunities -- namely the par 5s -- and compounding mistakes are all uncharacteristic for the 82-time PGA Tour winner. The good news is this is the area of Woods' game where he has been unmatched throughout his playing career. Once, not if, this hurdle is cleared, Woods could be back to his former self.