THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Tiger Woods knows he’s playing better than he has in the last two years, and he has the leaderboard to prove it.
Woods hit a half-dozen extraordinary shots Friday in the Chevron World Challenge on his way to a 5-under 67, giving him a three-shot lead over Matt Kuchar and K.J. Choi going into the weekend at Sherwood Country Club.
It was the second straight tournament that Woods had the 36-hole lead. Three weeks ago at the Australian Open, he was one shot ahead until a 75 in the third round. Woods wound up in third place at The Lakes, his best finish of the year.
With each round, it looks as though his best might not be too far behind.
Woods had two eagles, and nearly had a third with a flop shot from behind the 13th green that he was still talking about long after his round. Not even a double bogey on the par-3 15th hole when a gust knocked his ball into the water could keep him from a comfortable lead after two rounds.
“I want the lead after four days,” said Woods, winless in his last 26 official starts dating to the Australian Masters in November 2009. “Two days is nice, but four days is even better. I know I’m playing better, and it’s nice to see my position on the leaderboard equating to it.
“Two stroke-play events in a row I’ve played really well.”
At least this time, Kuchar only came up short and into the water on the 18th for a bogey. In the opening round, he was two shots out of the lead until a triple bogey on the 16th and a bogey on the 17th sent him to a 72. Kuchar played well again as the wind arrived in the middle of the round, and shot 67 to match Woods and Zach Johnson for the best score of the day.
“I always thought as a player, if you had a chance … and you want to test yourself against the very best, it seemed like, man, if you could go toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods and have a chance to beat him, that’s a real feather in your cap,” Kuchar said. “And you want his best. You don’t want to see him struggling and missing cuts. That’s no fun to say, ‘I beat Tiger Woods. He missed the cut and I had a 15th-place finish.’ You want him at his best going toe-to-toe coming down to the wire.
“And it’s fun to see him at that point.”
Choi had a three-shot lead over Woods through six holes and was staying with him until hitting in the water twice on the par-3 15th, taking a quadruple-bogey 7. Choi bounced back with a birdie and salvaged a 73.
He’s still very much in the mix, though Choi saw what he might be up against on the weekend.
“To put it simply, today he played like an artist,” Choi said about Woods. “It’s pretty clear that he’s really recovered and is back in his old form again, and he missed a few putts, but it was really good to see him play well.”
Johnson and Hunter Mahan (68) were four shots behind at 4-under 140 in the 18-player tournament.