Tiger Woods - has the time arrived?

Tiger Woods has reminded us all of just what the world of golf has been missing these past two years as he has slowly but surely rebuilt his game and reputation.

Woods today claimed what is a popular halfway lead at the Emirates Australian Open Championship and gave every indication that the player who has been talking up his game and the progress he has been making for so long was not kidding.

After his opening round of 68 left him three behind the first round leader Jarrod Lyle, Woods took the lead early on day two with four birdies in his first seven holes and went on to record a round of 67 to stand at 9 under for the tournament.

When he finished his morning round, Woods had a one shot lead over Australian, Peter O'Malley, with his playing partner in the opening two rounds, Jason Day, one shot further back.

That is the way it would stay all day, the breezier afternoon conditions making the task of chasing down the early leaders a difficult proposition.

American left hander, Bubba Watson, recovered from three dropped shots in his opening three holes to birdie his final three holes for a round of 70 to be within striking distance of the lead at 6 under and alone in 4th position.

The highly talented American, Nick Watney, shares 5th position along with Australia's Matthew Jones, first round leader, Jarrod Lyle, who joined Woods in the lead early in his round before finishing with a round of 74, the late finishing Greg Chalmers who won this event in 1998 and another to finish amongst the last few on day two, Rohan Blizard.

Woods was openly buoyed about his game overall but the quality of his play was perhaps best highlighted by his magnificent second shot to the par five 8th hole (his 17th)

"I hit that good," said an enthusiastic Woods. "I had 247 to the front, the wind was howling in my face. It was ever so slightly off the left and a slightly hanging lie. I had to start it into the bunker and just hammer it, and I did. It slid about three yards. It was the best shot I've hit so far this week. The three iron I hit on the 18th yesterday was also good."

It was hard for Woods to not hide his excitement. "I'm playing like I explained to you guys yesterday. I'm playing like I am playing at home. It has finally come to the golf course in a tournament setting. I have been hitting it like this at home but it hasn't come out in a tournament setting yet.

"It feels good that I am there playing properly. It's not like I am slashing it all over the place. I am hitting the ball well. I have hit so many lips these first two days. It could have been pretty low these first two days."

The further this event has gone the better Woods has looked. Through seven holes yesterday he was at even par but things kicked into gear from there. His first dropped shot of the opening two days came when he found sand from the tee at his 12th hole today but he immediately bounced back with a 30 foot putt at his 13th hole.

Currently ranked 1079 in the world, O'Malley is clearly a much better player than that but a lack of playing opportunities have been an issue for him.

The Sydneysider has struggled this year to get starts in Europe, the regular stomping ground during his professional career. O'Malley's career money status in Europe has run out and he was unable to get the starts he had hoped for, playing only four or five events there. "I thought I might have got a few more starts than I did so it was difficult for me to build continuity," said O'Malley recently

Today, however, he has again shown what a solid player he is. Ironically, on the only occasion O'Malley and Woods have met head to head, O'Malley defeated Woods in the opening round of the 2002 Accenture Match Play Championship.

"That was nine years ago and he was pretty gracious," said O'Malley. "He said, well done. In 18-hole match play anything can happen. I was actually playing good golf at the time."

O'Malley is a multiple winner of events in Europe, Australia and New Zealand the last of those coming late in 2010 when he won the NSW Open title at the Vintage Golf club in the Hunter Valley.

Leader, Woods, was very complimentary of his playing partner Jason Day who he got to play with for the first time this week.

"I had only seen him hit balls on the range," said Woods. "I had never played with him. He hits the ball really flush. He moves it a little from right to left. Man, he hits it solid. He's got some serious speed too. What people don't realise is how good a putter he is. He rolls it great. He has a wonderful stroke. He lets the blade go. It was tough conditions the last couple of days and he handled them well. He was very patient out there."

The initial matchup between the two became a mutual admiration society as Day was delighted to have played with his boyhood idol.

"It was fun," said Day. "Tiger is playing great. He is hitting the ball very, very solid and I had a lot of fun. He is a great guy. He is playing great. He has a lot of momentum going into the next two days. It was a lot of fun to play with my hero. I have been dreaming about playing with Tiger for a long, long time. I finally got the chance and I am glad I played well too.

"Growing up, he was my idol. I had posters of his swing on my wall. I read books about him. He changed my life because I worked harder after I read his book. It is good to see him playing good golf again. You tell it by the fans."

"The only thing that affected me was on the second hole when he hit driver and I was going to hit an iron," added Day when asked if Woods had any impact on his game. "He poked it straight down the middle. I thought I could do that so I hit driver behind a bush. Other than that, I had a lot of fun. We are looking good going into tomorrow's round."

Day has his 24th birthday tomorrow but it might just be that his present came in the opening two rounds by playing with and performing admirably against his boyhood idol. An even greater present would be to win his own national open in what is only his second ever appearance in his homeland as a professional.

"Playing against him (Woods) on Sunday in front of the home crowd in the Australian Open -a tournament I have always wanted to win - would definitely be a dream come true."

It might yet eventuate. What a mouthwatering proposition that would be. Arguably the world's greatest ever up against potentially Australia's greatest ever.

Worth the price of admission alone.

The cut fell at 2 over the notables missing being Matt Kuchar, Robert Allenby, Mathew Goggin and Rod Pampling.

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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