Tiger Woods in hunt at Valspar Championship, Rory McIlroy bows out
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 11/03/18 12:28am
Tiger Woods will go into the weekend of the Valspar Championship just two shots off the lead after a classy second-round performance in Florida.
Woods, making only the fourth start of his latest comeback from back surgery, made light of the tough conditions on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook and fired a resolute 68 which lifted him to four under and into a share of the early clubhouse lead with Paul Casey, Brandt Snedeker and Ryan Palmer.
The quartet were later joined by Kelly Kraft, but overnight leader Corey Conners upstaged the big names with a battling 69 which put him two clear at the top of the leaderboard.
But Rory McIlroy's preparations for the Masters took a hit as he missed the halfway cut by two shots along with Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson.
The story of the day was again provided by Woods, who led outright when he made his fourth birdie of the round at the fifth - his 15th - before taking a little gloss off his performance with his lone bogey on his closing hole.
Woods made an uncertain start as he pulled his opening drive into the trees at the 10th, but he threaded his second back into play and saved par with a precise pitch to two feet before settling for a five at the long 11th.
But the 42-year-old got his first birdie on the card at the 12th when he converted a wedge approach to six feet, and a towering mid-iron to similar range at the par-three 13th set up back-to-back gains.
Woods missed further decent chances on the next two greens and safely negotiated the Snake Pit in level par to turn in 33, and the vast galleries following his group were cheering again as he holed from 12 feet for birdie at the second to earn a share of the lead.
And, after a good par save from sand at the fourth, Woods suddenly found himself alone at the top of the leaderboard when he splashed out of a greenside bunker to five feet at the long fifth and rattled in the putt for a four.
Woods stayed at five under with another clutch par putt from outside 10 feet at the seventh, but he failed to avoid dropping a shot at his final hole after a wayward approach ended up in a spectator's bag.
His pitch from the back of the green flicked the pin and came to rest six feet beyond the hole before the par putt slid past on the left side.
Woods tapped in for bogey to settle for a share of the lead with Casey (68), Snedeker (68) and Palmer, whose six-birdie 66 was the low round of the tournament so far, while Kraft returned a 71 to make it a five-way tie for second.
The early leaders were eclipsed by Conners, who raced three shots ahead of the field with three birdies over his first seven holes before slipping back to five under when he bunkered his tee shot to the short fourth and then three-putted to run up a double-bogey five.
But the Canadian hauled one back with a sublime approach to tap-in range at the seventh and he parred safely in as he chases his maiden PGA Tour victory.
Justin Rose enjoyed a better ball-striking day as he hit back from an outward 37 with three birdies on the back nine to card a 69 which hoisted him to three under, while Ireland's Shane Lowry is a further two shots adrift as only 29 players completed 36 holes under par.
McIlroy, however, will have an unscheduled weekend off after he failed to build on an opening birdie - with three bogeys in four holes around the turn leaving him with a mountain to climb to make the weekend.
He gave himself a lifeline with birdies at 11 and 14, but he dropped another shot at the next and parred in to card a disappointing 73 - two strokes too many to extend his tournament.