SHANGHAI (AP)—The gallery kept growing until it stretched along all 603 yardsof the eighth hole at Sheshan International. It took a little longer beforeTiger Woods gave them what they came to see Friday in the HSBC Champions.
Losing patience with each missed putt, Woods finally knocked in a 10-footbirdie on the ninth hole and was on his way.
With five birdies over the final 10 holes, he pieced together another5-under 67 and surged into a share of the 36-hole lead with Nick Watney in aWorld Golf Championship that had a distinctive American flavor. Seven of the topnine players on the leaderboard are from the United States.
Far more tantalizing going into the weekend was Woods and Phil Mickelson ,who ended their PGA Tour season with a compelling battle in Atlanta, going at itagain halfway around the world in China.Tiger Woods of the United Stat…
AP - Nov 6, 4:38 am EST
Woods missed six birdie chances inside 20 feet and was growing increasinglyagitated until one putt on the ninth changed his outlook.
“It certainly was a little bit frustrating, but the guys weren’t runningoff and hiding, either,” Woods said. “I knew if I could just play the backnine at 3-under par … I figured that would probably be a pretty good number.And I did a couple better than that.”
Mickelson chipped in for birdie on the 15th, then recovered from a poor teeshot with an unlikely birdie on the 16th. After trying to play short off the teeon the 288-yard hole and hitting hybrid into a bunker, Mickelson faced anawkward distance and a slightly plugged lie in the sand. He blasted a pitchingwedge to 12 feet and made another birdie.
“One of the best shots I hit all day,” Mickelson said, and one finalbirdie on the par-5 18th gave him a 66.
Behind him was Woods, hard to miss with the size of his gallery and theaccompanying cheers. He came up short with his wedge and chipped in for birdie,then reached the green in two on the 538-yard closing hole framed by water for atwo-putt birdie.
That put him in the lead at 10-under 134 with Watney, who birdied his lasttwo holes for a 70.
Even in a World Golf Championship with players from 23 countries—the mostdiverse field for this series—Woods and Mickelson have been the attractions atthe biggest tournament in Asian golf.
Woods first came to China in 2001 for an exhibition and remains a favoriteof the star-struck crowd that calls him “Laohu,” which is Mandarin Chinese forTiger.
Mickelson won the HSBC Champions two years ago and has impressed the Chineseoff the course, too, by speaking of a responsibility to play in Asia to helpgrow the game and talking up the two golf courses projects he has in thecountry, including one in Kunming with a par-3 course that he hopes will attractchildren.
“This is my third year here, and I’ve seen a great increase in the numberof people that have come out to watch, as well as the excitement level,”Mickelson said. “Obviously, Tiger Woods coming here plays a big part in that.But he also came here three or four years ago, and this is at a whole differentlevel this year. It’s been neat to see.”
Woods has come twice to Sheshan International, and twice left as therunner-up. And despite leading going into the weekend, he realizes there is alot of work left.
Watney felt as though he missed every putt that he had made the day before,yet his closing birdies put him in a share of the lead. As he finished, theworld’s top two players were starting to make their moves.
“I knew from the start they were in the field, so it’s no surprise they’replaying well,” Watney said. “Whatever the lead is at, that’s not going to winthe golf tournament. I need to go out and keep playing well and keep makingbirdies to have any shot.”
Mickelson is part of a crowd at 9-under 135. He is joined by Alvaro Quiros ,the Spaniard reputed to be golf’s biggest hitter who shot a 66; and Ryan Moore ,who made an 8-foot eagle on the 18th and finished his round at No. 9 by chippingin for birdie.
“If I have to be honest, I don’t see my name for a long time on theleaderboard—all were Americans,” Quiros said. “It was strange. Of course, itis exciting for me.”
Another shot behind is Anthony Kim , who saved his aggressiveness for the18th hole by hitting a 5-wood to 4 feet for eagle. Pat Perez had a chance topost the only bogey-free round of the tournament until he missed an 8-foot parputt on his final hole for a 69, leaving him three shots off the lead.
Perez has been around long enough to understand that Woods commands thelargest gallery, but he didn’t realize what kind of magnet the world’s No. 1player was in China until he looked around and saw two spectators. He didn’t saywhether that included his wife.
“It made me realize I’m actually a nobody,” Perez said. “I thought I wassomebody, but this confirms it. In worldwide golf, I’m a nobody.”
He has a chance to make a name for himself this weekend, as do others.