(Reuters) - Tiger Woods moved into a tie for second place at the halfway point of the Valspar Championship in Florida on Friday and said his game was tracking nicely in time for the year’s first major championship, the U.S. Masters.
Woods, who underwent spinal fusion surgery last April, shot a three-under-par 68 that left him two strokes behind leader Corey Conners after the second round at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor.
PGA Tour rookie Conners only got into the event as an alternate but leads the way after carding a 69 for a six-under 136 total. The Canadian would have been further ahead but for a double-bogey on his 13th hole, where he three-putted from short range.
The tournament lost two of its biggest names with world number four Jordan Spieth (71) and four-times major champion Rory McIlroy (73) missing the cut, both bowing out at five-over 147.
For Woods, however, Friday was “a good day,” despite the 42-year-old carding his lone bogey of the round at his final hole, the par-four ninth, where his six-foot par putt grazed the hole after his birdie chip had struck the flagstick.
This week, his fourth start of the year, is likely to be his penultimate event before the April 5-8 Masters at Augusta National, and Friday’s round marked another encouraging outing by a player whose previous comeback attempts have been short-lived due to recurring back injuries.
“I keep getting a little bit better, here and there making little subtle tweaks and I’ve done that from tournament to tournament,” the 14-times major champion told reporters.
“I’m finding the rhythm of the round, hitting shots, I don’t have a problem posting scores. I’m able to play more feel golf.”
Woods was joined on four-under 138 by fellow Americans Brandt Snedeker (68), Ryan Palmer (66) and Kelly Kraft (70) and Englishman Paul Casey (68).
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said. “Wind’s going to be totally different, coming out of the south this weekend. It will be a completely different test than we’ve had the last couple of days.
“This is a very difficult golf course.”
Woods returned to the PGA Tour in January, finishing equal 23rd at Torrey Pines in San Diego.
He subsequently missed the cut at Riviera in Los Angeles but enjoyed his most promising result since 2015 when he finished 12th at the Honda Classic in Florida two weeks ago.
“I thought I had a shot (of winning) at Honda with a few holes to go and instead of making birdies coming in I made some mistakes but to play myself into contention this early into (my return) was nice,” he said.
“I feel comfortable out there.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Christian Radnedge/Peter Rutherford