Looking fully in charge of his game, Tiger Woods fired an outstanding seven-under-par 65 to open a two-shot lead over Graeme McDowell after the second round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship on Friday.
Woods has 17 birdies from his opening 36 holes for the first time in a PGA Tour event, helped by some outstanding work on the greens on the Blue Monster course at Doral.
“It felt like I finally got into a feeling where I needed to have it,” said the world No. 2 of his round.
Woods stands at 13-under for the tournament with Northern Ireland’s McDowell two strokes back in second place after a bogey-free 65 in good scoring conditions.
McDowell has not made a bogey in his 36 holes so far and, unlike his compatriot and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, looks very much at ease with his game.
However, McIlroy will take heart from a much more solid display on Friday: His three-under 69 contained six birdies, but was slightly spoiled by three-putting for a bogey on the 18th.
He looked far more comfortable from the tee, in particular, but paid the price for some sloppy work on and around the greens.
Tied in 32nd place and at two-under for the tournament, McIlroy is 11 shots off the lead, but will take some comfort after breaking 70 for the first time this year.
“It’s about the ball-striking and it’s getting there. Days like today are very pleasing because it shows that I’m going in the right direction,” he said.
Phil Mickelson, who lost out in a memorable “Duel at Doral” with Woods in the old Ford Open in 2005, also put himself firmly in contention with a 67 that leaves him three strokes off the lead and in a share of third place with fellow American Steve Stricker (67).
Mickelson was close to a hole-in-one on the par-three ninth, his final hole, where his tee shot ended up just eight inches from the hole with the American wiggling his body in hope.
The left-hander, a four-time major winner, narrowly missed out on a pairing with Woods on Saturday, but hopes he will be up against his old rival in the final round.
“I hope that on Saturday that I play a good round and so does he, and we get a chance to get paired together in Sunday’s final round, because he seems to somehow bring out my best golf,” he said.
Masters champion Bubba Watson (69) and Sweden’s Freddie Jacobson (69) were a further shot back, at nine-under.
However, if Woods can replicate his Friday form, he has a great chance of adding to his January victory at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
Woods found nine of 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens and needed just 26 putts as he cruised around a course where he won in this tournament in 2007. The 14-time major winner found the hole on all 14 putts from inside 10 feet.
“I left myself in the right spots to make putts and I think that’s probably the biggest key is that I left myself where I didn’t have that many downwind, downhill, downgrain, downwind putts,” Woods said. “I kept leaving myself where I could be aggressive.”
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