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Tiger Woods has shot of the day at Australian Open

It was the shot of the day Friday at the Australian Open, andone that made the Tiger Woods of today look ominously like the oneof yesterday. Standing about 280 yards from the green on the par-5 eighth holeat The Lakes, Woods grabbed his 3-wood, flushed it with a slightfade into a brisk breeze and rolled it on to the green. Two puttslater, his birdie helped him to a 5-under 67 and a one-stroke leadover Australian veteran Peter O’Malley going into the weekend. That impressed one of his playing partners, Australian RobertAllenby, who missed the cut after rounds of 75-73, but who stillseemed to enjoy the front-row seat to Woods’ apparentresurgence. “Probably in the last six months, that’s the best I’ve seen himplay,” Allenby said in the scorers’ area while Woods was mobbed byautograph seekers. “I’ve seen him at his absolute best … that wasa different human being. He’s on his way back, that’s for sure. “I think where he is right now is good enough to win. I thinkyou’ll find if he keeps going the way he is going, he’ll win overthe weekend.” Woods, who was at 9-under 135, thought Friday’s round might evenhave been better _ “it felt it could have been 8 or 9 deep.” Asked how it felt to be atop a leaderboard again, Woods appearedto take some satisfaction of saying that perhaps he shouldn’t havebeen written off just yet. “The headlines tell the whole story, don’t they? … They knowall,” Woods said. “It is one of those things, just being patient.I’m playing like I am playing at home. It has finally come to thegolf course in a tournament setting. It takes a little time butonce it starts coming, the confidence starts building.” That confidence just might see him end a two-year winlessdrought _ his last tournament victory came two years ago atMelbourne at the Australian Masters. Combined with hisopening-round 68, Woods posted his best back-to-back rounds of theyear. It’s the first time he has led a tournament since the thirdround of the Chevron World Challenge last year, and the first timeagainst a full field since the Australian Masters. Woods was tiedfor the first-round lead at The Barclays last year. O’Malley, who is a member at The Lakes and birdied his last twoholes, shot a 66. He was the No. 64 seed who beat Woods in theopening round of the Match Play Championship at La Costa in2002. Jason Day, who played alongside Woods and Allenby, had a 68 andwas two behind. Bubba Watson, among eight Americans to came to theAustralian Open to get ready for the Presidents Cup next week atRoyal Melbourne, birdied his last three holes for a 70 and wasthree shots behind. American Nick Watney faded on the front nine and shot 73,although he remained tied for fifth at 5-under 139. First-roundleader Jarrod Lyle, with a 74 Friday, was among five tied withWatney. A large crowd that packed into the knolls and dunes becamelouder the longer Woods stayed atop the leaderboard, and even someof the tournament officials appeared to get wrapped up in the day.At one point, they had his name spelled simply “Tiger” on aleaderboard. For Woods, it was a strange sight. “It feels good,” he said of his name listed first. “It feelsgood to be there playing properly.” Woods repeated that he has been hitting the ball this well inpractice at home in south Florida, and based on the other times hehas changed swings, he referred to the process of gettingconfidence in practice and eventually taking it to the golfcourse. “That’s progress. That’s what happens,” he said. “And once itstarts coming, the confidence is building.” The Americans lost one of their players at the Australian Openwhen Hunter Mahan withdrew Friday morning because of pain in theback of his right shoulder that wouldn’t go away. Rather thanrisking it, Mahan decided to take a few days of rest. He said heexpects to be playing next week at Melbourne. The Presidents Cup captains both made the cut. U.S. head FredCouples shot 74 and was at 3-under, six behind Woods. Internationalteam captain Greg Norman also shot 74 and was at 1-over, 10 behind.Matt Kuchar, one of Couples’ team members, failed to make theweekend, shooting 73 Friday to miss by one stroke. Woods was among the controversial selections by Couples to theU.S. team, especially because he hasn’t won in two years and rarelyhas put himself in contention. But it was a day like Friday, on theback of the opening round, that made any questions about him lookmoot. “It’s a great pick,” Day said. “A few people questioned it. Hewas not playing that great a couple of months ago, but he hascertainly turned it around. Overall, his game is looking good fornext week.” Woods looked like he was enjoying himself Friday as he soaked upthe adulation of thousands of Sydney golf fans who haven’t seen himplay a tournament in Australia’s largest city since 1996. “It was great,” Woods said. “Yesterday and today, playing withtwo Aussies, that helps. Everyone is kind of into it. The crowdswere just rooting for me. It was a fun atmosphere to be part of.”

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