Returning Tiger is delighted to show that he's up for the fight

VIDEO Tiger Woods drains long putt for critical birdie gives spirited fist pump

VIDEO Tiger Woods drains long putt for critical birdie gives spirited fist pump

He was steady, and at times spectacular. His two-putt birdie from 75 feet at the last wasn't for his ninth victory on the seaside layout, but it was important nonetheless. He made the turn three shots out of the cut line, and then holed a 50-foot birdie putt to start his back nine.

The 14-time major champion wrestled four birdies from his last nine holes on the North Course at Torrey Pines, carding a one-under par 71.

The American holds a slim one-shot lead over in-form Spaniard Jon Rahm, the defending champion who birdied two of his last three holes on the North for a 66.

Toy Finau, who was top of the leaderboard after day one, slipped two places to tie for third at nine-under after 36 holes.

Get that thing within non-harrowing distance, and Woods, at even par, could birdie the hole, do a pull-up to get his chin just above the cutline of 1 under par, make his first PGA Tour cut since August 2015 and play the weekend by the Pacific.

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Woods responded with four birdies coming home. It was just trying to get used to the firmness of the green - we can hear the ball land from the fairway.

Woods initially returned to competitive golf after a 10-month absence at the Hero World Challenge in December, but that's not an official PGA Tour event.

The 42-year-old, who started on the back nine, posted a double-bogey when he was forced to take a drop on the 13th after hitting his tee shot into a natural hazard. He'll have work to do on Friday on the North Course, typically the more forgiving of the two in use over the first two rounds of the tournament. Whatever you think of Woods, that closing tap-in birdie to rally was relieving and an incredibly cool scene.

The last became imperative after he made his lone bogey on the back side, when his tee shot on the par-3 eighth came up short.

So how is Tiger Woods doing in his return to the PGA Tour in his first event of 2018?

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"These guys are all going low and I haven't done that in a long time", Woods said. "I just want to keep progressing, keep playing tournaments". Tiger found the putting surface and faced a tricky shot across the green for eagle.

"I thought it was incredible", he said.

"My short game's been good all week", Woods said. "It's one thing to hit shots in practice - you are going to hit them further with the adrenaline going, and I am still learning how much further". "Tomorrow, hopefully, I'll drive a little better, get my irons obviously a lot closer and we get the better of the two greens tomorrow". "Good momentum going to tomorrow".

It's been almost five years, in fact, since Woods played for anything more important than a press with his buddies in South Florida; so it shouldn't exactly prompt a double-take that after so much time outside of the competitive fray, it's going to take a few rounds to rediscover that edge that made him the undisputed best of his generation.

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