3/9/2018 11:38:38 PM

Tiger shares early lead at Valspar Championship

Tiger shares early lead at Valspar Championship

Miami, United States: Tiger Woods fired a three-under par 68 on Friday to share the clubhouse lead in the second round of the Valspar Championship, his fourth tournament since returning from spinal surgery last April.

The former world number one was almost flawless, only a bogey at his final hole, the par-four ninth at Innisbrook Resort north of Tampa, Florida, preventing him from holding the outright clubhouse lead.

Instead, his four-under total of 138 tied him atop the leaderboard with England's Paul Casey and fellow Americans Brandt Snedeker and Ryan Palmer.

Canadian rookie Corey Conners, who held the overnight lead on four-under, had yet to tee off when Woods walked off the course.

"I'm up there. I don't think this will be leading (at the end of the day) but at least I'm there with a chance going into the weekend," said Woods, who began the day in a tie for eighth, three shots off the lead.

"Today was a good day," he added. "It was cold early, then the wind started blowing. It was just inconsistent, it was tough to get a bead on which way it was coming from. I did a lot of guessing -- guessed pretty good, also got fooled a few times."

Woods teed off on 10 and drained six-foot birdie putts at 12 and 13 and rolled in an 11-footer for another birdie at the par-four second hole.

In a greenside bunker at the par-five fifth, Woods blasted out to five feet and made the putt for a birdie that moved him to five-under for the tournament and put him alone atop the leaderboard.

He saved par at the seventh with an 11-foot putt, but his five-foot par attempt at his final hole wouldn't fall.

"I didn't know I had the sole lead," Woods said. "As I was walking off nine it showed 68 and that was at four (under)."

Still it was heady stuff to see the 14-time major champion's name atop the leaderboard less than a month before the first major of the year, the Masters.

Woods' odds to win the Masters, as adjusted by Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, dropped twice on Friday on the strength of his performance, first from 16-1 to 12-1 and then to 10-1 -- behind only world number one Dustin Johnson and reigning PGA Champion Justin Thomas, both priced at 8-1.

'A little bit better'

Woods said in January, when he returned to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines, that the early stages of his latest comeback would all be aimed at Augusta National, where he has won four green jackets but hasn't played since 2015.

The 42-year-old finished tied for 23rd at Torrey Pines, then missed the cut at Riviera in Los Angeles before a 12th-placed finish at the Honda Classic two weeks ago.

He's expected to tee it up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational next week in his final Masters tuneup.

"I keep getting a little bit better here and there, making these little subtle tweaks," said Woods, who was sidelined for all of 2016 before an abortive comeback bid in 2017.

"I just need to get a little bit more tournament time in. I'm starting to get a better feel for it. I'm finding the rhythm of the rounds, I'm hitting shots, I don't have a problem posting scores.

"I'm able to play more "feel' golf than I am just trying to figure out how to play golf again."

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