Tiger Woods roared into contention for his first victory since 2013, matching the best round of his injury comeback with a five-under par 65 Friday at the US PGA Quicken Loans National.
A spectacular chip-in and four putts beyond 15 feet were among his seven birdies, the 14-time major winner sharing 11th on five-under 135 after 36 holes at TPC Potomac, only four strokes behind US co-leaders Brian Gay, Beau Hossler and Ryan Armour.
“I’m not that far from putting it together where I can win,” Woods said. “The scores aren’t going to be that low. The course is getting a little bit more difficult.”
Former world number one Woods, who hadn’t played in the event he hosts since 2015 due to back pain, is making the 11th start of his return from spinal fusion surgery.
While his 79 career US PGA victories are three shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record, Woods has not won a title since the 2013 WGC Bridgestone Invitational and last captured a major at the 2008 US Open.
“I’m not that far back,” Woods said. “And it’s going to be a tough weekend. It’s going to be hot. It’s going to be long grinds.”
Woods had produced his best round of 2018 at May’s Players Championship with a seven-under 65 third round. The last time he went lower was an opening-round six-under 64 at Greensboro in 2015.
“You’ve got to be patient on this course,” Woods said. “There are not a lot of low scores out there.”
Woods, ranked 82nd, showed confidence and comfort with a new mallet putter being used in competition for only the second day in place of the Scotty Cameron putter he used in winning 13 major titles.
“It’s a tweener between my training putter at home and what I normally go with, so just go ahead and trust,” Woods said. “It’s a good feeling for me. It felt good today. I started on my line with the right pace and a lot of them fell.”
Hossler birdied four of the last five holes to shoot 66 and stand on 131 with Gay, a back-nine starter who birdied five of his first seven holes in shooting 64, and Armour, who shot a bogey-free 65.
Italy’s Francesco Molinari and American Billy Horschel were on 132 with Zac Blair on 133 and a pack on 134 including Taiwan’s C.T. Pan, Australian Marc Leishman and American Kevin Streelman, who shot a course-record 62.
In all, Woods hit 10 of 14 fairways, reached 13 of 18 greens in regulation and made only 26 putts.
“I was happy with it,” Woods said. “I thought something in the mid-60s would have been a good score and I was able to shoot that.”
Woods began on the back nine and sank a 24-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole.
The 42-year-old American took a bogey at 11 after sending his approach into deep grass but bounced back by sinking a 19-foot birdie putt at the par-3 12th.
Woods followed with a 16-foot birdie putt at the par-4 15th, but missed a six-footer to bogey the par-3 17th.
– ‘Bonus’ birdie chip-in –
Again Woods responded with a birdie, chipping in from 32 yards at the par-4 18th, sparking a roar from spectators as he made the turn.
“It was a bonus,” Woods said. “It was pretty sweet because I was trying to hit a high cut spinner in there and it worked out perfectly.”
Woods tapped in for birdie at the par-5 second, then sank a 25-foot birdie putt at the par-3 third. He missed a 15-foot birdie putt at the fourth but landed his approach at the fifth 2 1/2 feet from the cup and tapped in for birdie.
Woods blasted out from bunkers at the eighth and ninth, saving pars with tense five-foot putts.
“I didn’t want to lose it on the last couple holes,” Woods said. “And I could have easily lost it, but I made two nice saves.”