Tiger in charge Down Under
Tiger Woods stretched his lead to three strokes with another imperious display in the second round of the Australian Masters at Kingston Heath here on Friday.
The peerless world number one carded an unblemished round of four birdies to dominate the second round and head into the weekend poised for his first tournament victory in Australia and 93rd overall.
The 14-time major winner fired a four-under 68 to be 10-under 134 for the tournament and lead fellow American Jason Dufner (70-67) and Australians James Nitties (66-71) and Greg Chalmers (68-69), all on 137.
Colombia's Manny Villegas was among three players on six-under 138 after a round of 68.
So convinced was one local bookmaker that Woods was going to run away with the tournament this weekend that he announced he would pay out all bets placed on Woods even with two rounds remaining.
Even though the all-time great is having his first experience of playing on the reputedly tough Kingston Heath links course, Woods has only dropped one shot in his 36 holes so far, opposed to 11 birdies.
When a reporter asked if he was surprised with the way he had so quickly adjusted to the tricky course, a deadpan Woods answered: "Am I surprised? No."
"To shoot 68 today was a pretty good number considering the conditions," he said.
"I did have a couple of short birdie putts that I missed, but I also made two big par putts at nine and 14 to keep the round going.
"And to not drop a shot, it makes you feel quite good."
Kingston Heath became a little more difficult for the field on Friday with the greens drying out under the sun and the fairways quickening.
"It's nice to play the course under slightly faster conditions," he said. "I had played three rounds in the morning and it was nice to see it a little bit different.
"As the course dries out more you will have to hit the ball well and manage your game well because the greens are getting a little bit more spring to them."
Watched by the vast majority of the sell-out 24,000 fans, Woods had birdies at the first, second, sixth and 12th holes and narrowly missed another three birdie putts.
Woods set the tone with a birdie-birdie start at his opening two holes watched by a huge gallery, up to six deep in places.
He holed a five-foot putt at the first hole and then wowed the crowd with a spectacular approach shot to within one foot at the next.
Woods also scrambled well and blasted out of a deep greenside bunker at the fourth hole to save par.
He picked up another stroke at the sixth when he sunk an uphill 18-footer to lead by two and drained a pressure 15-foot putt at the ninth to complete the outward nine holes in three-under.
The American picked up his fourth birdie at the 12th as he threatened to pull away from his rivals in sunny, light conditions.
Woods swung his club in anger after an errant drive off the 14th tee, but he was fortunate that his ball smashed a spectator's mobile phone and stopped it from going on into the fairway trees.
But he again fought his way back to par the hole and save dropping a stroke.
Woods looked certain to pick up another shot at the 15th, but his 12-foot birdie putt hovered tantalisingly on the lip of the hole. He missed another birdie chance at the next hole when his downhill putt just curled wide.
Dufner and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger shared the rounds of the day at five-under 67.
Dufner had seven birdies and two bogeys while Wiesberger fired five birdies in an unblemished round.
Second round scores from the $1.5 million European Tour co-sanctioned Australian Masters tournament at Kingston Heath on Friday (Australian unless stated):
134 - Tiger Woods (USA) 66-68
137 - Jason Dufner (USA) 70-67, James Nitties 66-71, Greg Chalmers 68-69
138 - Ashley Hall 69-69, Manny Villegas (COL) 70-68, Mathew Goggin 68-70
139 - Bernd Wiesberger (AUT) 72-67, Stuart Appleby 69-70, Cameron Percy 67-72, Steven Bowditch 71-68
140 - Scott Laycock 72-68, Wade Ormsby 71-69, Peter Nolan 68-72
141 - Aaron Baddeley 73-68, Rod Pampling 71-70, Francois Delamontagne (FRA) 71-70, Michael Sim 70-71, Doug Holloway (NZL) 67-74, Branden Grace (RSA) 66-75
142 - David McKenzie 70-72, Tim Wilkinson (NZL) 71-71, Sam Little (ENG) 71-71, John Senden 73-69, Adam Scott 71-71, Steve Benson (ENG) 71-71