After 18 holes at the Valspar Championship, Corey Conners leads at 6 under, but he's got some huge names just behind him chasing him into the weekend. Conners takes a two-stroke advantage into Round 3, but he has six former major winners within four strokes of his lead (though Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are not among them).
Tiger Woods headlines a group including Ryan Palmer, Brandt Snedeker, Paul Casey and Kelly Kraft at 4 under, two back of Conners' lead. Behind them stands a group at 3 under, including Sean O'Hair, Jason Kokrak, Justin Rose, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley. Louis Oosthuizen, Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed all lurk a bit further back.
After an up-and-down 1-under 70 effort over his first 18 holes, Woods fired a delectable three-under 68 to move into a tie for the lead at the time he finished his second on Friday. It nearly held up throughout the day as Conners was the only one to finish north of Woods' 36-hole number of 4-under 138.
, both statistically and anecdotally. He hit 11 of 18 greens in regulation on a tough course and only had one blemish on his scorecard, a missed six-foot par putt on the final hole of the day. He was magnificent throughout and seems to really have his iron play under control.
"I felt like I was playing well, just a matter of cleaning up a few holes and a few shots here and there," Woods said. "I had a shot with a few holes to go and so I just tried to basically try and continue what I was doing. What I was doing it worked, little changes I made from L.A. worked. I'm especially feeling more comfortable this week than I was at Honda with the changes I made."
Whatever those changes were, they're clearly affecting his game for the better. Woods is fourth in the field in strokes gained tee to green and has made four-of-six putts from 10-to-15 feet. He's currently the 4-1 favorite to win this event, according to Bovada.
Woods' 4-under 138 was just one stroke worse than a two-day best ball from Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. They both shot 5-over 147 and missed the cut. McIlroy finished No. 140 in a field of 144 in strokes gained putting, and Spieth wasn't much better at No. 101 in the field (he was also 136th in strokes gained around the green). They'll stunningly both watch from home on Saturday after being two of the three biggest names in the field coming into this week. At least they'll have something intriguing to tune into.
"His short game is incredible," McIlroy said of Woods. "He's hitting the ball much better than he did the first couple of starts of the season. I love to be here for the weekend to be in contention but I'll an interested observer watching TV over the weekend see how it unfolds."
Lemme know if you saw Tiger beating Rory by 18 shots in the six rounds since Riviera.— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) March 9, 2018
Rory has shot over par in 6 consecutive rounds, the second-longest streak of his TOUR career (8, 2010).
Jordan Spieth, 24, surpassed Tiger Woods, 42, on Friday -- in missed cuts. Spieth now has 19 as a pro on the PGA Tour. Woods has 18 overall, 17 on the PGA Tour. The other player in their 3-ball for the first 2 rounds at the Valspar Championship, Henrik... https://t.co/6sfOSBR8uO— Bob Harig (@BobHarig) March 9, 2018
Saturday should be a thrill ride with Woods and a huge cast of interesting characters putting on potentially the drama of the early part of 2018. With the Masters looming over everything, and Woods's stunning comeback now officially a success, the final 36 holes at Innisbrook are must-see TV on Saturday and Sunday.
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