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  • Associated Press Leader Corey Conners chips out of the sand on the fifth hole during the second round of the Valspar Championship on Friday in Palm Harbor, Fla. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018 1:00 am

Golf

Woods on heels of rookie leader

Associated Press

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Corey Conners knew Tiger Woods had finished his second round at Innisbrook because he couldn't see him. He was only about 50 yards from the ninth green, but there were too many fans covering every inch of grass, packed in a dozen deep because of Woods.

Woods brought the Valspar Championship to life Friday with his best round of a comeback that is building momentum toward the Masters.

Conners was happy to play a quiet round in the afternoon and wind up with the lead.

The Canadian rookie ran off three birdies before a careless error set him back, and he finished with a 2-under 69 for a 6-under 136 total and a two-shot lead. Right on his heels was Woods, who kept a clean card until his final hole and shot 68 for a 138 total.

Conners was on the putting green when Woods and his entourage – officials, security, media and stragglers – walked along the edge of the green, in front of another group waiting to tee off on No. 1 and toward the scoring area.

“I definitely saw that,” Conners said. “I've seen that the last few days as well. Pretty cool. Hopefully, I can be in a position where I get some followers Sunday.”

Until that moment, the closest Conners ever got to Woods was at the Masters three years ago when he watched him on the range. Conners played at Augusta National that year as the U.S. Amateur runner-up.

Being close to him on the leader board is an entirely different dynamic.

Conners was at 6-under 136 and will play in the final group with Paul Casey, who had a 68. Woods and Brandt Snedeker (68) will be in the group in front of them, with thousands of fans lining the fairways and surrounding the greens.

“I don't think this will be leading, but at least I'm there with a chance going into the weekend,” Woods said when he finished. “Today was a good day.”

Woods took the lead with a drive that was heading left, struck a cart path and caromed back into the fairway on his 14th hole, the par-5 fifth. That set up a long iron into the front right bunker and a delicate shot from the sand to about 5 feet for his fourth birdie of the round.

He saved par with a 12-foot putt on No. 7 and was heading toward a bogey-free round until his wedge on the par-5 ninth rode the shifting wind to the right and into the gallery, his ball on a woman's bag. After getting a drop, his chip came out too strong and hit the flag, leaving it only 6 feet away.

He missed the putt and didn't seem all that bothered.

EUROPEAN: IN New Delhi, Emiliano Grillo took a four-stroke lead at the Indian Open after shooting 4-under 68.

The Argentine had five birdies and a bogey, lowering his total to 11-under 133 for the tournament.

Shubhankar Sharma, who three days ago received a special invitation to play at the Masters, made a charge with an 8-under 64 – the best round of the day. He had nine birdies, including six on the last nine holes. His only bogey came on the par-4 seventh.

PGA CHAMPIONS: In Newport Beach, California, Tom Pernice Jr. shot a bogey-free 7-under 64 for a three-shot lead in the Toshiba Classic. Pernice, 58, is a five-time winner on the PGA Tour Champions but has never played particularly well at Newport Beach Country Club. The event, a home game of sorts for the Southern California resident, was off the schedule last year while the clubhouse was renovated.

Seven players were three shots back: Scott Parel, Joey Sindelar, Scott Verplank, David Frost, Scott McCarron, Tommy Tolles and Fran Quinn.