A double-bogey late in his second round pared his lead in half, but Corey Conners still shot a two-under 69 on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, Florida. He takes a two-stroke lead into the weekend of the Valspar Championship, with some compelling players lurking close behind.
“Really happy to be in the position I am and to be here, first of all,” Conners said. “Really excited. Kind of a new position for me, but what I work for, and looking forward to a fun weekend. It will be a challenge but I feel like I’m up to it and feel good about my game.”
Conners, who is tied for second in the field with nine birdies, was up to the challenge from the start on Friday, making three birdies on his first seven holes and turning in three-under 32. When he finally slipped up at the par-3 fourth (his 13th), Conners bounced right back at the par-4 seventh, hitting his 134-yard approach to tap-in range.
After getting into the field this week as a third alternate, the 26-year-old from Canada finds himself alone atop a leaderboard that features names like Tiger Woods, Paul Casey and Justin Rose not far behind.
“It will be a fun experience. The nice thing is there’s a ton of Canadian fans,” he said. “I think this is an important winter destination for Canadians. I’ve been feeling a lot of Canadian love out there and yeah, looking forward to more of that and I think it will be a lot of fun.”
Among a group two back at four-under 138 is Woods, who carded a three-under 68 that was bogey-free until his final hole. It was a second-round charge that had his fellow competitors in awe, including Casey and Brandt Snedeker, who each shot 68s to join Woods at four under. There even came a point where he held a solo lead for the first time since 2013 after making his fourth and final birdie of the day at the par-5 fifth (his 14th).
“I keep getting a little bit better here and there, making these little subtle tweaks and I’ve done that from tournament to tournament,” Woods said. “As I’ve said, I just need to get a little bit more tournament time in and I think I’ve done that and I’m starting to get a better feel for it. I’m figuring the rhythm of the rounds. I’m hitting the shots. I don’t have a problem posting scores. Not like I’m able to play more feel golf, just trying to figure out how to play golf again.”
Even with all the excitement surrounding this latest step in the comeback, Woods still knows there’s work to do.
“Got a long way to go, 36 holes. The wind is going to be totally different, conditions are going to be different, come close to coming out of the south this weekend. Ball will be flying a little bit further. Be a completely different test than what we had last couple days.”
Also at four under are Kelly Kraft (70) and Ryan Palmer, who shot the second-lowest round of the day, a five-under 66 that included a back-nine 31.
Five players are at three-under 139, including a trio of Major champions in Rose, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley. Jimmy Walker (71), Patrick Reed (69) and Louis Oosthuizen (69) are at two-under 140.