Low scores continued Friday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, where some of the game’s biggest names gravitated toward the top of the leaderboard. Tiger Woods will begin the weekend with a two-shot lead over Graeme McDowell.
Here are a few things you need to know from Friday’s play at Trump Doral:
1. TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER: Woods insisted he “wasn’t that far off” at last week’s Honda Classic, where he tied for 37th. Maybe he was right.
Woods opened the Cadillac Championship with 66-65 to take a two-shot lead. Six of the top eight players have won majors. Woods is two shots ahead of McDowell and three ahead of Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker. The 36-hole leader has gone on to win this event nine of the previous 13 times. Woods made 17 birdies over the first two rounds, the most to open a tournament in his career.
When asked to comment on that record, Woods said, “Left me with a two-shot lead. … I’m playing well and I made a bunch of putts. But more importantly, I left myself where I didn’t have that many downwind, downhill, down-grain putts. I kept leaving myself where I could be aggressive.”
He’s missed just eight greens in the first two rounds and is second in the field with 49 putts.
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2. OVER THE TOP: Hyperbole often surrounds the actions of the world’s No. 1 player. The roles were reversed, as now Rory McIlroy is doing the exaggerating. He discovered on the driving range Thursday evening that he’ll need to feel as if he’s overdoing his desired swing fixes if he wants change to come quickly. It seemed to work, as McIlroy shot 69 Friday for his first sub-par round of 2013.
“I said to my Mum walking from the 15th to the 16th tee, ‘Oh my God, I’m in red numbers,’” McIlroy joked. “You go through these periods in golf where you just have a tough time and things don’t click right away. … It would be great if it wasn’t like that, and it would make the game a lot easier.”
He’s tied for 32nd halfway through the Cadillac Championship. He had to make a 4-foot bogey putt, though, at No. 18 to record his first round under 70 of this year.
“If I think I’m taking it inside, I have to take it inside more,” McIlroy said. “If I’m thinking about coming over the top more, I need to come over the top more. Everything needs to be exaggerated at the minute.”
McIlroy will enter the weekend 11 shots off Woods’ lead. McIlroy hit 23 of 36 greens, and just 11 of 28 fairways. He’s tied for 63rd in the 65-man field in driving accuracy.
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3. FAMILY BUSINESS: Beware the part-time golfer. Stricker is in third place, just three shots behind Woods. Stricker’s wife, Nicki, is on the bag this week. She caddied for him on the mini-tours as a way to save money, then stayed on the bag for his first years on the PGA Tour. Now she carries the bag once a year. When asked if he was allowed to get mad at his caddie this week, Stricker said, “I can’t do that.”
He then told a story from the 1996 Presidents Cup when, after chunking a fairway bunker shot, he turned and slammed his club into the bunker, covering Nicki with sand.
“To this day, Corey (Pavin, Stricker’s partner) keeps asking her, ‘Have you got all the sand out of your hair?’” Stricker said. “I watch what I do around her.”
Stricker has made just one bogey through 36 holes. This is his third start of the year. He finished second at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and made the quarterfinals at the Accenture Match Play Championship.
“I’m enjoying it,” Stricker said about his part-time schedule. “I can tell my attitude out here, it’s good, and I think that’s the biggest thing is I’m coming out here rested, refreshed, excited to play and it’s showing in my game.”
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4. GOOD ENOUGH: Bubba Watson said Friday’s play was “not very good,” but he’s in contention at the Cadillac Championship for a second consecutive year. A second-round 69 has Watson in fifth place at 9-under 135, four shots back of Woods.
“Today was just a solid day, a lot of pars but nothing heroic,” Watson said.
He may be in contention, but he wasn’t low man in his group. His playing partners, Mickelson and Stricker, are at 10 under.
“When you’re playing with the greats of the game, I still think of me as a young kid and when you’re playing with the greats, you’re watching,” Watson said. “So when you’re watching those two guys, you’re trying to learn from them and take from them.”
Watson was runner-up at last year’s Cadillac Championship, missing a 9-foot birdie putt that would have forced a playoff with Justin Rose. Watson held a three-shot lead after 54 holes but shot 74 in the final round.
5. GLOBAL AFFAIR: Giving a worldly flair to this World Golf Championship, players who qualified from the Australasian and Asian tours are tied for 10th through 36 holes. Michael Hendry, who won last week’s New Zealand PGA Championship, shot 72-66; Hendry finished second on last season’s Australasian Tour money list. Thaworn Wiratchant, who will make his Masters debut later this year, shot consecutive 69s. The 46-year-old is the oldest player to win the Asian Tour money list. He’s won 15 times on that tour.
Wiratchant possesses a unique swing. He takes the club straight up in the air so that his hands are directly above his head at the top of his swing, and all his weight is on his left side. He then tilts back to the right side through impact. He’s known as a short hitter but one with a strong wedge game. He’s hit just 19 greens this week, tied for 54th in the 65-man field. He’s averaging 271.9 yards per tee shot, which ranks 61st.
Charl Schwartzel matched Woods for Friday’s low round, a 7-under 65, to move from 32nd to tied for seventh, five shots off the lead. He’s finished fourth at this event last year, and was runner-up in 2010. Keegan Bradley also is tied for seventh after shooting two consecutive 68s. . . . Luke Donald was high man in the featured pairing of the world’s top three players. Donald, who hit his approach into the water at the 18th late Friday, shot 70-76 and is tied for 54th. He made double-bogey on No. 18. . . . Rose, the defending champ, shot 72 to fall from 10th to 27th. . . . Forty-three of the 65 players at Doral are under par.