Tiger Woods leads Australian Open

Updated: November 11, 2011, 3:06 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

SYDNEY -- For the first time since the final round of the Masters, Tiger Woods found himself leading a golf tournament on Friday.

Woods

His time on the Augusta National leaderboard eventually ended in disappointment. How it plays out at the Australian Open will be determined over the final 36 holes this weekend at The Lakes Golf Club.

Woods, who is coming up on the two-year anniversary of his last victory, shot 5-under-par 67 on another blustery day that saw him make his first two bogeys of the tournament but also put him in a position that was once so familiar.

"I played well today," Woods said. "I could have been a little lower over my first nine holes. I felt like I really didn't miss a shot. Even though I shot 5 under today, it felt like it easily could have been 8 or 9 deep.

"It feels good, but it feels good to actually be there playing properly instead of slashing the ball all over the place."

He was at 9-under 135, one shot clear of a familiar name in these parts -- and to Woods.

Peter O'Malley is a member at The Lakes and birdied his last two holes for a 66. O'Malley is memorable to some golf fans in the United States as the No. 64 seed who beat Woods in the opening round of the Match Play Championship at La Costa in 2002.

Jason Day, who played alongside Woods, managed to limit the damage from a few wayward shots and had a 68 to finish two behind. Bubba Watson, among eight Americans to came to the Australian Open to get ready for the Presidents Cup next week at Royal Melbourne, birdied his last three holes for a 70 and was three shots behind.

"He has more shots in the bag than me right now," Day said. "He hits some shots that made me go, 'Wow.' I feel that I can play a lot of different shots, but some of the shots that guy hits, especially around the greens, are amazing. He is always in control and always composed."

Robert Allenby, who has played with Woods many times over the years, saw a game that was starting to look vaguely familiar.

"Probably in the last six months, that's the best I've seen him play," Allenby said. "I've seen him at his absolute best ... that was a different human being. He's on his way back, that's for sure.

"I think where he is right now is good enough to win. I think you'll find if he keeps going the way he is going, he'll win over the weekend."

Woods shot a front-nine 31 during the final round of the Masters to tie for the lead heading into the back nine but he could not sustain it and eventually tied for fourth, four strokes behind winner Charl Schwartzel.

During that tournament, Woods suffered knee and Achilles injuries that proved to be far more serious than expected. He tried to return a month later at the Players Championship, suffered a setback, and did not return again until the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August.

Along the way, he missed two major championships and was basically unable to train or practice. After tying for 37th in the no cut Bridgestone tournament, he shot 10 over par at the PGA Championship and missed the cut for the first time in that major.

Because he was ineligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs on the PGA Tour, Woods didn't play competitively again until last month's Frys.com Open in California, where he finished 30th. He is playing in just his 11th tournament worldwide this year.

"I'm just being patient. I'm basically playing the way I've been playing at home. I've been hitting it like this at home but it hasn't come out in a tournament setting yet. That's the progression. I've been through swing changes before, and that's what happened. It takes time and once the confidence starts coming it starts building."

Woods played in the morning and finished at 135, 9 under par, one stroke ahead of Australia's Peter O'Malley -- who once defeated Woods in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship.

First-round leader Jarrod Lyle was starting his round when Woods finished. Australian Jason Day shot 68 and was two strokes behind Woods.

Woods' last victory came at the 2009 Australian Masters at Kingston Heath in Melbourne. Last year, he led his own Chevron World Challenge in California through three rounds before losing to Graeme McDowell in a playoff.

Bob Harig is the golf writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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