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Halfway home: Tiger Woods leads by two in Japan, historic 82nd win within sight

October 26, 2019

Golf fans had to wait nearly two days to see if Tiger Woods could back up his scintillating first-round 64 at the waterlogged Zozo Championship.

It was worth the wait.

After nearly a foot of rain saturated Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan, pushing the second round until Saturday, Woods continued his scoring assault, firing another six-under 64.

At 12 under, Woods leads by two over U.S. Open winner Gary Woodland. Keegan Bradley and the local kid, Hideki Matsuyama, are tied for third at eight under.

Woods has held the solo 36-hole lead 33 times in his PGA Tour career. On 28 of those occasions he has delivered a W. If he can convert this week — well, next week; because of the weather delay, the tournament will finish on Monday — Woods will notch his 82nd Tour title, tying him with Sam Snead’s all-time mark.

As he did in the first round, Woods saved his best stuff for last on Saturday, making five of his seven birdies on the back nine. He grabbed the solo lead with a birdie at the par-4 17th then made another at the par-5 closer to climb ahead by two.

“I left a lot of my approach shots below the hole and I was able to be pretty aggressive, and the greens are a little bit slower than they were yesterday,” Woods said. “I had a good feel on the putting green, which was nice. Hit a lot of putts from below the hole and making sure that I put a lot of right hand into it and released it and it felt good all day.”

The roars that reverberated across Narashina on Thursday, when fans came out 20,000 strong for a glimpse of Woods, were notably absent Saturday. Because of the soggy conditions, tournament officials closed the course to spectators, meaning the field went about its business in an eerie quiet.

“I made a couple putts today and I went to put my hand up and I’m like, don’t put your hand up, there’s no one clapping,” Woods said.

Woods’s putter stayed hot in the second round but the key to his scoring was his tight wedge game around the greens — he got up and down for par five times, on holes 5, 6, 8, 12 and 14.

The third round will commence 6:30 a.m. Sunday; Woods will go off at 8:30 a.m. with Woodland and Bradley. The field will squeeze in as many holes as daylight allows but a champion will not be crowned until Monday.

“It’s going to be a bit of a test physically and mentally to play for up to 10 hours,” said Woods, who is making his first official start since his knee surgery in August.

No doubt Sunday will be a long day. If Woods continues his fine play, Monday could be a historic one.