Showing no signs of limits in his swing, Woods had two birdies - the first by reaching the 572-yard par-five third hole in two and another at the par-three eighth - before closing with a disappointing bogey on the par-five ninth when he was greenside in two but struggled with his short game.
Woods's back nine was much more uneven, with a three-putt bogey at the par-3 12th, and another bogey at 18, where he fanned his tee shot into some clumpy sand right of the fairway.
Against long odds, facing some of the best players in the world and coming just seven months after spinal fusion surgery to his lower back, the former world No. 1 and victor of 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour titles put himself in position Friday to actually win for the first time since 2013.
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Oklahoma and Wisconsin control their own playoff destiny, but the same can't be said for their conference championship opponents. Should the eighth-ranked Buckeyes win, they could provide their own compelling argument for a spot in the semifinals.
Woods grabbed his second birdie with a stunning 20-foot putt evoking loud applause, that even forced Fowler - playing nearly a hundred yards away - to take notice. "If that's the case, I think a good, solid round should get me up there".
"I thought I did great", he told broadcaster Sky Sports. "That's going to take time, a lot more practice, a lot more training and more tournaments". After two more birdies at the 3rd and 4th, he had a share of the lead for the first time in a professional tournament since the 2015 Wyndham Championship.
"(But) I proved that the surgery was successful, the rehab has been fantastic and now I've got a chance to go out there and play competitive golf again".
"I had a hard time all day with my speed on the greens - they seemed to be about a foot faster". "I was playing with Justin and he's never played with Tiger".