Gone from golf for two months, it didn't take Tiger Woods long to get back in contention on the PGA Tour.
Woods chipped in from 34 yards for eagle on his final hole yesterday at the Buick Invitational in La Jolla, Calif., giving him a 6-under-par 66 and sending a strong message about the state of his knee, not to mention his game.
He didn't hit many fairways, and the rust was evident. Still, he's only two shots behind leaders Brad Faxon and Marco Dawson heading into the weekend at a tournament in which Woods has never finished worse than fifth.
"It's just getting into the rhythm of competing," he said. "I have to get into game shape. Practice is one thing, but it's a different speed out here, and I've got to get used to that."
Woods's game turned as quickly as a gloomy fog that gave way to glorious sunshine.
When the day began with low-hanging clouds over Torrey Pines, Woods replaced his ball under a cedar tree on the 10th hole to resume his first round. He was 1 under and going nowhere in a hurry.
By late afternoon, the weather was spectacular over the Pacific coastline and colorful hang gliders dotted the horizon. Woods was just short of the ninth green and walked only to the edge of the putting surface to gauge his chip.
The ball skipped over a ridge on the green, slowed to a crawl and disappeared into the cup. The gallery erupted and Woods raised both arms and smiled.
Faxon got a lesson last week at Pebble Beach on how to stay patient. He played with Davis Love III, who struggled early in the tournament and wound up winning. Faxon was plodding along until making five birdies over his final eight holes for a 64.
He and Dawson (66) were at 10-under 134.
Woods isn't the only comeback story. Dennis Paulson, a former PGA Tour winner who lost his card this year, made the most of his opportunity to play in the Buick with rounds of 68-67. He was in a large group at 135 that included first-round leader Arron Oberholser (65-70) and Fred Funk (71-64).
Woods, who was at 136, admitted to some rust after finishing his first round on the North Course with a birdie and a 2-under 70.
He packs ice on his knee in the evening, followed by routine stretching in the morning.
By the time he started his second round, Woods had a spring in his step. "My leg got better as the day went on," he said.
The driver is another matter. After hitting just three fairways in the first round, Woods continued to send his tee shots into the rough. The only exception was when he teed off with a 2-iron.
* CHAMPIONS TOUR: Vincente Fernandez shot a 6-under 66 at the ACE Group Classic in Naples, Fla., the first time he has had a lead after the opening round since the 2000 Royal Caribbean Classic. He ended up second at that tournament. A total of 15 players are within two shots of Fernandez at The Club at TwinEagles. Forty-nine of the 81 players in the event shot par or better.
* AUSTRALIA: Ernie Els increased his lead to four strokes in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth, Australia, capping another back-nine scoring frenzy with his second eagle on the par-5 15th.