CHIBA, Japan (Reuters) - Silence was golden for Tiger Woods as he carded a second straight six-under-par 64 to grab a two-shot second-round lead over Jeff Woodland at the Zozo Championship on Saturday.
On a day when spectators were not allowed on the premises due to what the PGA Tour said were unsafe conditions, Woods went about his business in front of a mostly eerily-quiet Narashino County Club - though some keen fans staked out positions along a lane adjacent to the fourth hole.
With birdies at the final two holes, Woods jumped clear of fellow American Woodland, posting a 12-under 128 halfway total in the rain-affected event that will not finish until Monday.
Woodland shot 66 for second place at 10-under, while Keegan Bradley and local favourite Hideki Matsuyama were two shots further back in a tie for third.
“I hit the ball a little bit better than I did yesterday, which is nice, and I had the speed of the greens again,” said Woods, making his return to competition two months after undergoing arthroscopic left knee surgery.
“The greens are soft, they’re a little bit slower today and we could give it a little bit extra rap. I left a lot of my approach shots below the hole and was able to be pretty aggressive.”
Even though players were allowed preferred lies, the course dried remarkably well after being deluged with six inches (150 mm) of rain on Friday.
The par-four 10th, however, was shortened to 140 yards because much of the fairway was under water at the start of play. The hole was still designated a par-four, though it played shorter than any of the par-threes.
The third round and the first part of the final round are scheduled for Sunday, with the remainder of the final round set for Monday morning.
Spectators will be allowed back in on Sunday and most of the sell-out crowd of nearly 20,000 will no doubt have eyes for Woods, playing in Japan for the first time since 2006.
Though the course was closed, several hundred people – TV crews, photographers, writers and officials -still gathered around the first tee to watch.
The 15-times major champion certainly noticed the unusual atmosphere. “I made a couple putts today and I went to put my hand up and I’m like, ‘don’t put your hand up, there’s no one clapping’,” Woods said.
The only sign of Tiger-mania occurred at the fourth hole, where a high wire fence serves as a boundary of the property. Several hundred fans gathered along the adjacent road, though their view was blocked by trees and bushes.
One couple peeking through the fence said they had come from Taiwan and had decided that catching a glimpse of Woods was better than nothing.
Reporting by Andrew Both; editing by Tony Lawrence