Continued from page 1

So long ago that a pairing with Woods - the defending champion, unofficial king of Torrey Pines, supreme commander of his PGA Tour universe and No. 1 player in the world - wasn’t really that big of a deal.

“I wasn’t intimidated by any means,” Spieth said. “I grew up watching him, just like I did with a lot of these veterans out here, so I’ve idolized him, watched him win majors and whatnot. It’s exciting to finally be paired with him.”

They played a practice round at the Presidents Cup. They were teammates. Spieth had every reason to feel as if it was just another round.

And it’s not the first time he was in the company of a big-time star. In September, he played in the final round with Phil Mickelson at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Spieth is a huge fan of Mickelson, though it didn’t show.

The kid shot 62, a round so strong that Mickelson quickly got on the phone with Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples and told him he should pick Spieth. And he did.

Mickelson, meanwhile, had so much soreness in his back that after a 73 on the South to finish eight shots out of the lead, he withdrew from the tournament. Mickelson cited muscle pain in his lower back, saying that he would consult doctors to figure out his next move. He feared that swinging differently to protect his back might get him into bad habits.

Spieth has no such habits at the moment.

This is the third time in eight rounds this year that his name has been atop the leaderboard at the end of the day. He shared the lead after the first and third rounds at Kapalua. Then again, he missed the cut in the Sony Open. And this tournament is only halfway through.

Even so, Woods was impressed, though not surprised.

“He hits it a long way, phenomenal putter. He made a boatload of putts today from the 10- to 20-foot range, and on poa greens, that’s not easy to do. He was pouring them in there. He had speed to them, too. That’s what you have to do to putt on poa. … He putted with a lot of confidence.”

That used to be Woods, and it still might be. This is his 2014 debut, his first competition in six weeks. And while it’s a long shot to win from nine shots back and 49 players ahead of him, Woods was quick to remember that he made the cut with two shots to spare in 1999 and had a 62-65 weekend to win by two at Torrey Pines.

That was before the South Course - where the final two rounds are played - was lengthened ahead of the 2008 U.S. Open (which Woods won). No one has shot better than 67 on the South for two days.