Saturday, March 24, 2012

Golf: Woods takes PGA lead

ORLANDO, Florida: Tiger Woods served notice that he has regained top form with the Masters less than two weeks away, grabbing the clubhouse lead on Friday at the PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The 14-time major champion fired seven birdies in a bogey-free second round of seven-under 65 to finish 36 holes on 10-under 134. Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell and American Jason Dufner shared second on 135, also in the clubhouse.

And Woods didn't even think he played that well on the same Bay Hill course where he has won six prior US 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."

Woods produced his lowest score after 36 holes since the US PGA Buick Open in July of 2009 and did it in his final event before the Masters starts on April 5.

What remains for the former world number one to accomplish, however, is putting together two more great rounds on the weekend and snap his current losing streak in tour-sanctioned events that began in November of 2009.

Woods could own a 36-hole PGA lead for the first time since the 2009 Tour Championship, when he finished second to Phil Mickelson, and he made 18 greens in a row in regulation at an event for the first time since the 2007 US Open.

Woods has won 33 times in 41 events where he has led or shared the lead after 36 holes, including 13 of his past 15 such opportunities.

"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 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, with no sign of trouble and the player himself proclaiming good health.

Woods 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. He was 18 inches short on a 50-foot eagle bid at 16 before tapping in for birdie.

At the par-3 17th, he rolled in a 15-footer for birdie to claim sole possession of the lead.

And at the par-4 18th, Woods had a 23-foot birdie putt that struck a grass clump halfway to the hole and rolled just to the right of the cup. Woods made the comeback par putt from 3.5 feet to complete his impressive round.

Woods overshadowed a stellar 63 by McDowell to put himself into contention after opening with a par-72 on Thursday afternoon when greens proved harder to read than they were Friday morning.

"It was a beautiful morning for scoring," McDowell said. "Greens were more receptive than yesterday afternoon. I played well and shot even par and though I should have done better. Today I got it cranked up and made some birdies."

The 2010 US Open champion struggled a bit last year in the aftermath of becoming a major champion.

"I'm a little bit more focused. I'm flying back under the radar a bit more now," McDowell said. "It's nice to be able to slip into an event like this and post some numbers."

- AFP/wk

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Source Form Channel News Asia

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