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For Tiger, better to be lucky than good
Back in the day, Tiger Woods wasn't just the best player in the world, he was also one of the luckiest.
Errant shots would have a habit of finding safe harbor, bounces would go his way, putts — like the famous one on the final hole at the 2008 US Open — would somehow fall in instead of lipping out like they did for most everyone else.
The past two-and-a-half years, not so much.
I thought of this on Friday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when Woods, 4-under par on his round at the time, snap-hooked a driver on the 10th hole.
The out-of-bounds fence protecting the houses to the left of the hole is flimsy. Woods' ball could easily have ended up in a backyard, his momentum shot.
But the ball somehow not only stayed in bounds, but left him an opening, from where he did what he used to do all the time, threaded a beautiful recovery shot that found the putting surface.
From the outhouse to the penthouse, and Woods even almost made the putt.
His second shot into the par-5 16th went so far left it looked to be wet, but somehow the ball jumped onto the green, from where he two-putted for birdie.
There were, to be sure, plenty of quality shots, too — the 5-iron into the treacherous par-3 17th was as high and soft and pretty as you'll see — but it's fair to say things went Woods' way on Friday.
This was a bogey-free 7-under-par 65 that wasn't really exceptional.
"I felt like I actually hit it better yesterday than I did today. But I made more putts today, for sure," Woods said later, "I felt great over the putter."
And that, in itself, is a feeling he hasn't much had in a long while.
Woods putted on each green. His lone missed green in regulation, the 13th, stopped on the fringe. The last time he'd hit this many greens in regulation? Five years ago at Torrey Pines.
At 10-under par, Woods finds himself with a share of the lead at the midway point of a PGA Tour event for the first time since the 2009 Tour Championship.
I asked him if it was like riding a bike, remembering what to do with the lead.
"It hasn't been that long, you know," he said, referring to his 54-hole share of the lead at Abu Dhabi to start this year.
But he lost there, shooting 72 in the final round to Robert Rock's 70.
And he also held the midway lead at the Australian Open in Sydney last November. But a Saturday 75 dented his chances and he ultimately finished third, losing to Greg Chalmers.
"I'm comfortable up there and I feel like I'm playing well," Woods said.
"We've still got a long way to go. Still need to continue doing what I'm doing out there, just kind of plodding my way along."
In his favor is that he's won six times at Bay Hill. Four times he's had the halfway lead at Arnie's place and converted three of them — his only loss coming in 1998.
"It's always been the case that certain golf courses, no matter how I'm playing coming in, I feel comfortable once I get there," he said. "Fortunately, this is one of them.
"For some reason, I just understand how to play it."
Ernie Els thinks it's him.
Els played with Woods in the final round at the Honda Classic, when Woods shot 62 to make a run at Rory McIlroy.
In the three rounds they've played together this year, Woods has shot 18-under par.
"He should pay me," Els joked.
If Woods goes on to win an official PGA Tour event for the first time in two-and-a-half years, it wouldn't hurt to ask.
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