Tiger shares Bay Hill lead
Tiger Woods (Gallo Images)
Orlando - Tiger Woods served notice that he has regained his top form with the Masters approaching, firing a seven-under par 65 on Friday to share the lead at the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The 14-time major champion fired seven birdies in a bogey-free second round to finish 36 holes level with South Korean Charlie Wi on 10-under 134 at the $6 million event.
And Woods didn't even think he played that well on the same Bay Hill course where he has won six prior PGA titles.
"I putted well. I didn't feel like I hit it all that good," Woods said. "My misses are better, I just played smart all day. I didn't make any bad mistakes. That's what I'm working on. My bad days aren't as bad as they used to be.
"I feel comfortable on this golf course. For some reason I just understand how to play it."
Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell and American Jason Dufner shared third on 135 with England's Justin Rose a distant fifth on 138.
Woods produced his lowest score after 36 holes since the PGA's Buick Open in July of 2009 and did it in his last event before the year's first major event, the Masters, starts on April 5 at the famed Augusta National Golf Club.
What remains for former world number one Woods to accomplish, however, is putting together two more great rounds over the weekend and snapping his current losing streak in tour-sanctioned events that began in November of 2009.
"I'm going to go out there and hit fairways and greens and try to give myself some chances," Woods said.
The impressive form comes as Woods prepares to resume his pursuit of the all-time record 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus in two weeks at Augusta National Golf Club, where Woods has won four times but not since 2005.
"I don't know if he will win all the majors he wants," said golf legend and tournament host Palmer. "He will win tournaments. And I think he will win another major too."
Woods had part of a 36-hole PGA lead for the first time since the 2009 Tour Championship, when he finished second to Phil Mickelson. He has won 33 times in 41 events when ahead or co-leader after 36 holes, including 13 of his past 15 such opportunities.
Woods was relaxed about being in front, having held the lead briefly in his first event of the year at Abu Dhabi.
"It hasn't been as long as people might think," Woods said. "I'm comfortable up there. We've got a long way to go. This course is only going to get firmer and faster. There's 36 holes out there. I'll just keep plodding along."
Woods made 17 of 18 greens in regulation in a round for the first time since his 2008 Buick Open victory, missing only at the par-4 13th.
At one point, Woods had hit 18 greens in regulation in a row in an event for the first time since the 2007 US Open.
Woods has not won a tour event since the 2009 Australian Masters, just before the eruption of his infamous sex scandal, although Woods did win the World Challenge event that supports his charity foundation last December.
Injury concerns appear to be behind Woods, who pulled out of the final round of the World Golf Championships event at Doral two weeks ago with a tightness in his left Achilles tendon.
After a week of treatment with what was diagnosed as a strain, Woods played the two-day Tavistock Cup exhibition, a practice round Wednesday and 36 holes of the event with no problems.
Woods, who began the day three strokes off the pace in a share of fourth, birdied four holes in a row starting with the par-5 fourth and including the par-5 sixth and par-3 seventh to begin his charge.
He also birdied both back-nine par-5s, the 12th and 16th, to grab a share of the lead and was 18 inches short on a 50-foot eagle bid at 16 before tapping in for birdie.
At the par-3 17th, Woods rolled in a 15-footer for birdie to seize the lead alone and was just right of the cup on a 23-foot birdie putt at the 18th.
Wi, an 18-hole co-leader with Dufner who began off the 10th tee, birdied four of his last six holes to catch Woods, sinking a 26-foot birdie putt at the ninth to complete a second-round 68 and join Woods in Saturday's last group.
Woods also overshadowed a stellar 63 by McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion.
"It was a beautiful morning for scoring," McDowell said. "I got it cranked up and made some birdies."
Leading scores on Friday after the second round of the $6 million PGA Tour Arnold Palmer Invitational (USA unless noted, par-72):
134 - Tiger Woods 69-65, Charlie Wi (KOR) 66-68
135 - Jason Dufner 66-69, Graeme McDowell (NIR) 72-63
138 - Justin Rose (ENG) 69-69
139 - Bubba Watson 69-70, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 72-67, Vijay Singh (FIJ) 71-68, Chris Stroud 70-69, Webb Simpson 73-66, Zach Johnson 71-68
140 - Ian Poulter (ENG) 71-69, Johnson Wagner 71-69, Martin Laird (SCO) 72-68
141 - Marc Leishman (AUS) 70-71, Kevin Na 73-68, Charles Howell 73-68, Jimmy Walker 69-72, Ernie Els (RSA) 71-70, Nick Watney 68-73, K.J. Choi 69-72, Sean O'Hair 69-72
142 - Ryan Moore 71-71, Davis Love 70-72, Camilo Villegas (COL) 73-69, Daniel Summerhays 72-70, Kevin Chappell 73-69, Trevor Immelman (RSA) 73-69