Tiger Woods leads by 2 at Doral

DORAL, Fla. (AP) — 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. 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 them 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.

Woods, who once owned these WGCs, has
not won the last 10 he’s played. But after a key putting tip from
Stricker on Wednesday afternoon, Woods looks as comfortable as ever on a
Blue Monster course where he has won three times.

“It’s going to be tough to catch him,”
Stricker said. “We all know when he gets out in front, he’s tough to
catch and tough to beat. Looks like he’s playing well. Looks like all
parts of his game are working. Yeah, he’s going to be tough to catch.”

The toughest part of the weekend might be the Blue Monster.

The greens already are firm and crusty
under a week of sunshine and dry air. Woods, McDowell and most everyone
else expects it to only get worse.

“I guess they can let this place go since they’re going to tear it up on Monday,” McDowell said.

Donald Trump, who bought the resort a
year ago, plans a big makeover on the Blue Monster with construction to
start right after the tournament. If that’s the case, it could be
reminiscent of Bay Hill a year ago, where Woods outlasted McDowell on
the final day.

“It basically was a U.S. Open that
broke out in Orlando,” Woods said. “We don’t get too many opportunities
where the weather cooperates, where they can push the golf course to a
point where it’s pretty tough like that.”

Not that he would mind. Woods has thrived on the toughest courses over the years, one reason he has 14 majors.

“It would be fun,” he said.

More fun is being atop the leaderboard,
especially on a course where Woods has a history of winning. He has a
35-10 record when he has at least a share of the 36-hole lead, though he
is only 2-2 in the last year. Those events he failed to win were the
U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

The star from Northern Ireland this
year has been McDowell, who won the World Challenge at the end of last
year at Sherwood and hasn’t missed much of a beat since returning from a
10-week break. He lost in the quarterfinals of the Match Play
Championship, and tied for ninth in the Honda Classic.

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.

“And he certainly looks like if you can finish one ahead of him this weekend, it looks like you’ll do OK here.”

McDowell didn’t mind finishing ahead of
Mickelson on this day, a small motivation. He looked at a leaderboard
filled with so many big names, and he couldn’t help but notice the
four-time major champion making a move.

“I saw Phil sneaking up the leaderboard
there behind me and I said, `Let’s spoil this part tomorrow.’ I’m sure
they would have liked Tiger and Phil in the last group tomorrow, but I
certainly will enjoy the position of being in the last group. That’s
where I want to be.”

Mickelson will play with Stricker.

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.

Mickelson also wanted in that last
group with Woods, especially with his track record against him over the
last five years. He was happy with his game, though, coming off a
two-week break, with a detour to Augusta.

“There’s something very spiritual about
playing Augusta if you love the game as much as I do, and going there
gets me fired up,” Mickelson said.