Tiger turns back time
Ex-world No. 1's showing at Valspar augurs well for next month's US Masters
Tiger Woods has made such a great recovery from last April's spinal fusion surgery that many might wonder why he did not have the procedure sooner.
Woods said yesterday morning (Singapore time), however, that he had not been prepared to risk it until he basically had no other choice if he wanted to have a chance of living pain-free and playing competitive golf again.
"This is uncharted territory," Woods said, after moving within one stroke of the third-round lead at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida.
"No one has ever had a lower lumbar fusion where I had it and come out here and played.
"I didn't want to go there. That was last case resort and ended up being the only option I had left.
"We exhausted all the non-surgical options. My disc was still intact so we're trying to save the disc and I just never know with the future."
Swinging fluidly, Woods generated more clubhead speed than any other measured swing on this year's US PGA Tour - 129 miles per hour (207 kmh) with his drive at the 14th hole at Innisbrook Resort.
He carded 67 for eight-under 205, trailing only Canadian leader Corey Conners.
"The environment was incredible," Woods, 42, said of the boisterous gallery that followed him.
"People were into it... it's been incredible. I've played myself right there into contention, so it should be a fun Sunday."
After his birdies at the ninth and 10th, Woods, who hasn't lifted a trophy since the 2013 World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational, was tied with Conners for the lead.
He couldn't convert birdie opportunities from within eight feet on his next two holes, and his lone bogey of the day at 13 saw him briefly drop three behind Conners - who had just made his sixth birdie of the day at 12.
Woods responded in style, blazing a drive 327 yards at the par-five 14th to set up a birdie that put him back at eight-under.
Conners bogeyed 16 to see his lead shrink. But he got up and down for par from a bunker at 17 and, when his ball moved slightly on the 18th green, he stayed calm, consulted a rules official and finished with a par.
Whether Woods wins this morning what would be his 80th career victory on the PGA Tour, he has already showed in his fourth official tournament since the fusion that he is not a spent force.
His form augurs well ahead of next month's US Masters but, more importantly, his health is a far cry from a year ago, when he could barely climb out of bed.
He said: "I was living from minute to minute. You have no idea how hard it was."
- REUTERS, AFP