Tiger Woods struggled on the practice range, and he didn’t feel much better two holes into his second round Friday at the Cadillac Championship in Doral, Fla. He would not have guessed this would be the day to set a personal record for birdies, much less wind up with a two-shot lead.
“All I need is one shot,” he said. “And as soon as I feel it on one, I can pretty much carry through. And I did that today.”
It was a 4-iron on the par-3 fourth hole, the toughest on the Blue Monster.
Woods hit a bullet with a slight fade at the left edge of the green and heard the crowd cheer as the slope and the grain took the ball to within 4 feet for birdie.
And just like that, he was on his way.
In a World Golf Championship with the biggest names in the hunt, Woods ran off six birdies in an eight-hole stretch around the turn in a clean, crisp exhibition. That sent him to a 7-under 65 and a two-shot lead over former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell.
Woods has made 17 birdies in two rounds, his most ever on the PGA Tour, though that wasn’t the most important number.
“It left me a two-shot lead,” Woods said.
He was at 13-under 131, his lowest 36-hole score on tour since the 2009 AT&T National.
Woods followed that 4-iron with a wedge he stuffed to inside 2 feet. He added a collection of 10- to 15-foot birdie putts, and ended his big run with another 4-iron with a totally different shape, this one high and soft to 15 feet on the 224-yard 13th hole. Those par 3s ranked as the two toughest at Doral on Friday, and he birdied both.
A birdie-birdie finish by McDowell gave him a 67 and prevented a dream final group for the weekend at Doral — Woods and longtime nemesis Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson, sparked by a visit to Augusta National earlier in the week, hit a 9-iron that stopped inches from dropping for a hole-in-one on the par-3 ninth. He had a 67 and was three shots behind, along with Steve Stricker (67).
Rory McIlroy showed signs of turning the corner with a 69, although he ended with a sloppy three-putt bogey. It was his first round under par this year, a small consolation for the world’s No. 1 player. He was still 11 shots behind Woods.
Making up a two-shot deficit to Woods is never easy, though McDowell holds one distinction. He is the only player to make up more than two shots to Woods in the final round, rallying from four down at Sherwood in 2010.
“Tomorrow is not about winning the golf tournament. Tomorrow is about maintaining position, maintaining the way I’m playing and trying to give myself a chance come Sunday afternoon,” McDowell said. “It doesn’t really matter who I’m playing with tomorrow. Tiger always brings his own interesting little circus inside the ropes. But like I say, I’ve been there many times and I always look forward to playing with him.”
Masters champion Bubba Watson recovered from a shaky back nine for a 69 and was at 9-under 135 with Freddie Jacobson (69). Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel also had a 65 and was five shots behind, along with former PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who had a 68.
PUTNAM HANGS TOUGH
University Place’s Michael Putnam had his second straight 5-under 67 and is four shots off the lead heading into the third round of the Web.com Tour’s Chile Classic in Santiago.
Putnam, whose brother Andrew stumbled to a 1-over 73 but still made the cut, trails leader Edward Loar (14-under 130), who has a two-shot edge on Brice Garnett and Danny Lee.
ROMERO RETAINS LEAD
Argentine’s Andres Romero shot his second straight 7-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead over Scott Brown (63) at the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open in Rio Grande.
Romero, the first-round co-leader, had a double bogey on the par-3 eighth hole, then birdied six of the last 10 holes on the Trump International course.