Miami: Tiger Woods fired eight birdies on Friday to complete a personal-best PGA run of 17 birdies in his first 36 holes and seize a two-stroke lead at the World Golf Championships Cadillac Championship.
World No. 2 Woods, seeking his 17th WGC victory and 76th career triumph, fired a seven-under-par 65 in the second round to stand on 13-under 131 after the second round of the $8.5 million event at Doral’s Blue Monster course.
Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell fired a 67 to finish 36 bogey-free holes on 133, one stroke ahead of Americans Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker with Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson and reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson on 135.
While Woods has produced lower scores over his first 36 holes at a PGA event, he has never fired so many birdies in the first two PGA rounds.
Woods, who won earlier this year at Torrey Pines, showed the form that has made him a 14-time major champion with his next chance to close the gap on the record 18 majors of Jack Nicklaus only a month away at the Masters.
“I probably hit the ball better at Torrey but I’m putting better here,” said Woods. “With forecasts of wind on Sunday, hopefully I can feel my way around and get it done.”
Woods has three career triumphs at Doral and six in this WGC event which has been hosted by several courses, but he has not won a WGC event in his past 10 attempts.
After nine birdies and three birdies in Thursday’s first round of 66, Woods shared the lead with four rivals. But as the second round wore on, no one could match Woods for putting consistency or approaches that put him within 10 feet.
“I played better today,” Woods said. “The first couple of holes weren’t very good at all. My first good shot was at four. Once I hit that shot at four, I felt pretty good about it.”
Woods put his tee shot at the par-3 fourth two feet from the cup to set up a birdie and followed with a birdie at five, then followed with two more back-to-back birdies at the par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth and par-5 10th and par-4 11th.
At the 10th, Woods was in a bunker but blasted out and sank a 10-foot birdie putt. After his birdie at 11, he followed by making his first birdie at Doral’s par-3 13th hole since 2006.
After a bogey at the 14th, his lone blemish of the round, Woods made a clutch eight-foot par-saving putt at 15 and followed with a birdie at the 16th.
“I bounced right back and I’m right back where I left off,” Woods said.
Woods closed his rounds with back-to-back pars, missing birdie putts from 20 feet at the 17th and 26 feet at the last hole. He has made only one birdie putt from beyond 20 feet in the first two rounds, a testimony to his approaches.
“Some holes we’re allowed to flatten it out and roll the ball,” Woods said. “Other holes you have got to just hit moon balls. It’s a tough track.
“If the wind blows with the greens this firm, it becomes very difficult. They are going to push us and test us.”
McDowell joined Jacobson, Watson, Woods and Sergio Garcia as co-leaders on day one and followed with four birdies on the front nine and another at 17.
“I’m hitting it pretty well off the tee,” McDowell said. “I’ve controled my iron play well. I’ve chipped and putted when I’ve had to but I’ve really done well on the greens. They are in some of the best condition I’ve seen.”
Mickelson opened with three birdies in a row on his way to his second 67 in a row.
“The key for me is I’ve driven the ball well and given myself a chance on the greens,” Mickelson said. “The greens are as fast and as firm as I’ve ever seen them.”
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland finished with a bogey after lipping out from two feet for par but birdied the five prior even-numbered holes and opened with a birdie on his way to a 69, his first sub-70 round of the year.
McIlroy ended the day 11 shots off the lead, tied for 32nd with eight others.