Any doubts as to whether Tiger Woods was really, truly a threat to win this week at the Zozo Championship were answered on the first hole Saturday at Narashino Country Club. Woods started things with high-draw fairway wood down the middle, followed that with a knockdown approach right at the flag, and punctuated it all by holing a four-foot birdie putt dead centre.

A three-perfect-shot birdie got Woods off to an ideal start to his second round of the Zozo. The finish wasn’t bad, either – Woods birdied 17 and 18 to shoot a second-straight 64. His two-day, 12-under-par 128 total has him in his most familiar place: alone atop the leaderboard. He’s two shots clear of US Open champion Gary Woodland, while Keegan Bradley and home-country hero Hideki Matsuyama are two shots further back at eight-under.

“I’ve been able to hit my irons pretty well this week, and that’s been nice,” said Woods after shooting the 58th round of 64 or better in his PGA Tour career. “Today, I left a lot of my approach shots below the hole. I was able to be pretty aggressive.”

A record-tying 82nd career tour win feels like a realistic possibility for Woods, who is making his 2019-’20 season-debut and his first start since undergoing knee surgery in August. Of the 33 previous times Tiger has held a solo 36-hole lead on tour, he has won 28.

Should that historic scenario play out, roughly 9,000 kilometres away from the site of his first PGA Tour win in Las Vegas in October 1996, it wouldn’t happen until Monday. Record-setting rainfall forced play to be cancelled on Friday – Woods saw the “Joker” movie during his forced day off – and tournament organisers have been playing catch-up ever since. The third round will begin at 6:30am (8.30am AEDT) on Sunday, and Woods will tee off at 8:30am (10;30am AEDT) alongside Woodland and Bradley. Players will complete as many holes as possible on the day, but an early sunset will force proceedings to bleed into Monday morning.

“It’s gonna be a bit of a test, mentally and physically, to play for up to 10 hours,” Woods said. “It’s going to be a long day.”

Narashino was pounded with typhoon-like conditions on Friday – in total nearly 10 inches fell throughout the day – and it took a significant effort from the grounds crew to get the course ready for play come Saturday morning. Narashino’s zoysia grass dried remarkably well, but the course was still closed to spectators for safety reasons.

Woods’ performance thus far might be surprising to many, particularly given an uneven performance in Monday’s MGM Resorts The Challenge: Japan Skins. Not included among those surprised: Tiger himself, who knew how well he had been hitting the ball back home in Florida. But hitting it well in a friendly skins and hitting it well in a PGA Tour event are two different propositions.

“One of the hardest things about coming off a layoff is finding the feel of a round … getting a scorecard in your hand is a totally different feeling,” Woods said. “I got behind yesterday, but I was able to dig my way out of it. I was able to get myself back in the tournament.”