Charley Hoffman leads the Hero World Challenge at 12 under after 36 holes, but he had to take the top of the leaderboard away from Tiger Woods late Friday.
Hoffman made a ridiculous 12 birdies in the second round and is up by three strokes over Jordan Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood, and four over Justin Rose. Woods, who shot 69-68 in the first two rounds, is 7 under and just five back after the first two rounds. He's tied for fifth alongside a host of others including Rickie Fowler.
But it was Hoffman who stole the show later from Woods.
"The balls were going in, which was nice," Hoffman said. "It's nice to see [Tiger] again. It's pretty special to be out here and see Tiger making eagles and birdies and hopefully in contention on Sunday."
It was truly incredible for a while on Friday as the sports world burned while Woods laid waste to an easy course in the Atlantic Ocean. For the second straight day, I watched the entire round, and I have several thoughts on what Woods did on Friday afternoon.
1. The chatter is back: The moment of the day on Friday was this 3-wood from 272 yards that. The low-key best part of the shot? Tiger talking to his caddie Joe LaCava, saying, "Talk to me, Joey." It has become clear even over the first two days that the more Woods plays, the less he's thinking about what might happen to his back and the more engaged he is in his actual round.
It seems like a small thing, but this is the kind of nuance I love seeing out of somebody who hasn't truly been involved in the sport at the highest level in a long time.
2. The chipping looked better: Woods' shortcoming Thursday was a balky wedge game. His putting speed let him down a tad on Friday, but the wedges looked strong. This chip in particular was outstanding as Woods had to pick the ball off the tightest of lies (on the green).
I'm not sure about which is the most important part of his game long-term, but I do know his wedge game has let him down in the recent past, so it's encouraging that he had zero issues in Round 2.
3. The driver is unbelievable: If Woods had driven it like this in his prime, he would have won 24 majors instead of just 14! I just cannot get over it. Tiger Woods, after not playing for 10 months, is pummeling the middle of fairways 330 yards away?! Woods didn't even do that when he was roasting competitors worldwide!
Even his misses (which there were very few) were mostly good. He would miss fairways by a couple of yards either direction, if he missed them at all. I know we're not talking about the U.S. Open here in terms of fairway width, but he's been outstanding with the big stick so far.
Final stats: 9 of 13 fairways, 13 of 18 greens and 27 putts. 31-37=68. Will take it. So good to see him happy and loose on the golf course.— GC Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) December 1, 2017
4. Approval from other players: Don't take my word for it. Woods has gotten the thumbs up from golfers both up close and afar. "It was what I saw when we played at home," Round 1 playing partner Justin Thomas said after Woods shot a 69 in front of him Thursday.
Graeme McDowell piped up from behind his TV set, as well, and he mentioned something I noticed yesterday. Tiger's ball speed has been preposterous. It's easy to understand if you watch how hard he's been swinging, but the amazing thing is ... how hard he has been swinging.
Joey said he’s surprised Tiger’s power and speed are where they are right now. Thought it may take awhile longer to come back.— GC Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) December 1, 2017
When I got the text from a player there that "if he stays healthy, he will win this year", I was shocked and got a little giddy. It would really be fun to see it again.— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) December 1, 2017
5. Tiger is taking this seriously: Here's a reality. Woods is just one stroke better after 36 holes than he was last year at this tournament. Granted, a 69-68 start this year certainly feels different than a 73-65 last year, and Woods looks far better and less rusty than he did this time in 2016, but it's worth mentioning.
Regardless, Woods seemed to have hit a mental checkpoint after Round 2 this year.
"I proved that the surgery was successful, the rehab has been fantastic," Woods told Todd Lewis of Golf Channel. "Now I've got a chance to go out there and play competitive golf again."
I can't believe I'm saying this halfway through this event, but Woods has a real chance to win this week, and it has become clear that he wants the opportunity to do so come Sunday afternoon.
Q: "Tiger, can you still win this week?— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelESPN) December 1, 2017
Tiger: "What do you think?"
Thanks for joining us.