Woods, Rose take Tour Championship lead into the weekend

The weekend pulls in too many directions. Prepare to be cleaved and conflicted. 

There are some very good reasons why this Tour Championship is moving to August. And they include: Georgia football (at Mizzou); Georgia Tech football (sticking its hand into the Clemson wood chipper); the Braves (phinishing off the Phils); the Falcons (the Saints are coming, and you’ll know when they get here when you hear the sound of someone playing a washboard). 

And now even soccer is demanding a place at the table – while kicking your shins beneath it (Atlanta United at home vs. Real Salt Lake).

So, if the PGA Tour’s big season-ending event is going to command any attention amid all this noise – short of allowing the field to play on donkeys – then it is going to do some voodoo with the leaderboard.

Does this work for anybody?

Tiger Woods co-leads going into the weekend.

A bunch of other guys you may have heard of are right there, too.

If there’s a better show in town than one of the planet’s most recognizable athletes trying to adorn an improbable comeback (he left impossible behind a month or so ago) with a victory, by all means flock to it.  

It was one thing to get Woods back in the Tour Championship mix after a five-year absence in any kind of shape outside that of an outpatient. To have him in the lead after each of the first two days is like matching the first three numbers on a lottery ticket, with the next pingpong ball just about to drop.   

On Friday, Woods was not nearly as efficient with his game as the day before, not so completely in command. His 2-under 68 – following Thursday’s 65 – reflected a day that in general was more difficult. The second-round field scoring average (70.367) was more than a stroke higher than Thursday’s (69.300). 

“I didn’t hit it very well overall today,” he said. “Didn’t quite have the sharpness that I had (Thursday), and it was pretty evident.”

World No. 1 Justin Rose was more than happy to join Woodsapalooza, shooting 67 on Friday and cozying up into a tie with Woods at 7 under for the tournament.

Rose is by far the best situated of those top five in FedEx Cup points who can win outright the $10 million bonus by winning the Tour Championship. Only two others of the Favored Five, Justin Thomas (4 under) and Tony Finau (2 under), are top 10 on the leaderboard entering the weekend.

“I think it’s a simple equation for me right now,” Rose said. “I’m in a position where I want to win this golf tournament and I can keep it as simple as that. I know that if I do that, it’s gravy all the way.”

Rose will be the one who gets to share the final pairing Saturday with Woods, and being a major winner and an Olympic gold medalist, he may be able to handle the position a little better than did Rickie Fowler. Fowler, the first-round co-leader, shot a 2-over 72 to fall four off the lead. 

Just up in front of the Woods-Rose pairing Saturday, there will be no shortage of international-level name recognition. Shooting 68 on Friday, Rory McIlroy is just two off the lead. Jon Rahm (68 on Friday, highlighted by a front-nine 30) and Thomas lead a group of four players just three off the lead.  

Woods came out Friday with such a bounce in his step that his Fitbit started measuring in air miles. When he birdied the par-3 second hole, he momentarily took sole position of the lead. But his days of leaving the rest of the field choking on his wake are behind him.

He took his first bogey since Thursday’s opening hole on the par-3 ninth, when his tee shot landed short in the fringe fronting the green. And he then missed a four-footer for par.

Woods got rolling on the back side with birdies on Nos. 12, 14 and 15 before giving two shots back with a double bogey on the par 4 16th. A wayward tee drive, a little too ambitious of an attempt from a horribly awkward bunker lie, and an inability to get up and down from 49 yards spelled his worst hole of Tour Championship.

But – as with his eagle there Thursday – Woods once more left ’em howling Friday with a two-putt birdie on No. 18, that lifted him back into a share of the lead.

“Rounds like today are hard,” he said, “and they’re hard mentally because you have to grind it out. You’re not quite as sharp. It’s easy to shoot low scores when you’re sharp. A little more difficult to post a low number when I’m off. I was able to do that today, and kept myself in the tournament.” 

Winning a tournament this season, his first since coming back from spinal-fusion surgery, is not something Woods can speak boldly about at this stage.

Asked about what a win here would mean, stood up next to his 79 other PGA Tour victories, Woods said, “I need to get there first, and that’s my responsibility to get there. I’ve got 36 more holes to go, and hopefully I’ll be answering that question Sunday night.”

Think that possibility is something that might capture a few eyeballs?      

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