On a leaderboard packed with golf's biggest names, Woods seized control with six birdies in an eight-hole stretch around the turn. That carried him to a 7-under 65, two shots clear of former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell (67).
A birdie-birdie finish by McDowell prevented a dream final group — Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson, sparked by a visit to Augusta National earlier this week, had a 67 and joined Steve Stricker (67) three shots out of the lead.
Rory McIlroy showed signs of turning the corner with a 69, his first round under par this year.