Ryder Cup hostilities broke out a week early at the Tour Championship on Friday, with Tiger Woods and world number one Justin Rose sharing the halfway lead after a pulsating second round in Atlanta.
American Woods and England’s Rose, who will face off on opposite sides next week in the biennial team event in Paris, at one stage built a three-shot lead over their closest rivals in the 30-man field.
They both butchered the 16th hole, however, and eventually signed for seven-under-par 133 and a two-stroke advantage over Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy at East Lake.
Woods took pride in shooting two-under 68 and earning his first halfway lead since the 2015 Wyndham Championship, despite not quite firing on all cylinders.
“I didn’t hit it very good overall today, didn’t quite have the sharpness I had yesterday, and it was pretty evident,” Woods told reporters.
“This is a grinder’s golf course. You’ve got to keep hanging in there and make a lot of pars, and I did that today... I ground out a round and shot something under par.”
Rose was also pleased with his score, a 67, on a day when he was unable to replicate his first round driving.
“It’s just hard to hit a ton of fairways,” he told Golf Channel.
“Yesterday I hit a ton of fairways, and I felt like it was an easy course, but today was much more of a struggle.”
Woods, a 14-times major champion who has not won this year in an otherwise impressive comeback following spinal fusion surgery in 2017, delighted his overflowing gallery when he ran in consecutive birdies at the 14th and 15th holes.
But he yanked his drive into punishing rough at the par-four 16th, and could only advance his second shot into a bunker where his ball plugged, forcing him to blast out sideways and leading to a double-bogey.
“The rough’s brutal,” Woods said. “Every ball sits right down the bottom. There are no good lies. You’ve just got to hit and hope.”
While Woods could win on Sunday and still not necessarily claim the season-long FedExCup points race and the $10 million bonus that goes with it, Rose’s fate is in his own hands.
He started the week second in the standings behind Bryson DeChambeau, who appears to be out of contention after a 75 that left him equal second-last.
“It’s all very well winning tournaments,” Rose said. “There’s just something extra about winning a season-long thing.
“I was able to do that in Europe in ’07 and it gave me a tremendous amount of pride, but to do it against the best players in the world on this tour would be incredible.”