Palm Harbor, Fla. — Corey Conners knew Tiger Woods had finished his second round at Innisbrook because he couldn’t see him.
He was only about 50 yards from the ninth green, but there were too many fans covering every inch of grass, packed in a dozen deep because of Woods.
Woods brought the Valspar Championship to life Friday with his best round of a comeback that is building momentum toward the Masters.
Conners was happy to play a quiet round in the afternoon and wind up with the lead.
The Canadian rookie ran off three birdies before a careless error set him back, and he finished with a 2-under 69 for a two-shot lead going into the weekend. Right on his heels was Woods, who kept a clean card until his final hole and shot 68.
Conners was on the putting green when Woods and his entourage — officials, security, media and stragglers — walked along the edge of the green, in front of another group waiting to tee off on No. 1 and toward the scoring area.
“I definitely saw that,” Conners said. “I’ve seen that the last few days as well. Pretty cool. Hopefully, I can be in a position where I get some followers Sunday.”
Until that moment, the closest Conners ever got to Woods was at the Masters three years ago when he watched him on the range. Conners played at Augusta National that year as the U.S. Amateur runner-up.
Being close to him on the leaderboard is an entirely different dynamic.
Conners was at 6-under 136 and will play in the final group with Paul Casey, who had a 68. Woods and Brandt Snedeker (68) will be in the group in front of them, with thousands of fans lining the fairways and surrounding the greens.
“I don’t think this will be leading, but at least I’m there with a chance going into the weekend,” Woods said when he finished. “Today was a good day.”
Woods has been slowed by mistakes, some leading to big numbers. The second round at Innisbrook was all about control of his shots that rarely put him out of position off the tee and especially on the green, where he could attack putts from below the hole.
He took the lead with a drive that was heading left, struck a cart path and caromed back into the fairway on his 14th hole, the par-5 fifth. That set up a long iron into the front right bunker and a delicate shot from the sand to about 5 feet for his fourth birdie of the round.
He saved par with a 12-foot putt on No. 7 and was heading toward a bogey-free round until his wedge on the par-5 ninth rode the shifting wind to the right and into the gallery, his ball on a woman’s bag. After getting a drop, his chip came out too strong and hit the flag, leaving it only 6 feet away.
He missed the putt and didn’t seem all that bothered.
Just over five months ago, Woods still didn’t have clearance to begin hitting full shots, much less to play without restrictions. In his fourth PGA Tour event in seven weeks, he looks like a contender.
“I’ve come a long way in that span of time,” Woods said.
The energy in the gallery was enormous, especially for this sleepy tournament.
“The roars are a little louder, and there’s certainly an energy about the gallery that you don’t have anywhere else,” Jordan Spieth said.