Signs are good that Woods is back on straight and narrow

 

Firestone

Tiger Woods is back on the straight and narrow. He may not be winning this WGC Bridgestone Invitational, but the former world No 1 provided enough evidence here that this comeback will be rather more productive than the last.

The 35-year-old's driving has certainly taken a leap forwards. Granted, he missed six fairways, but on a tight track such as Firestone that is inevitable. And the fairways he did miss were close calls. If his putter had behaved himself this would have been much lower than 71.

Could we be witnessing the rebirth of the champion? In black and white his second-round 71 does not merit a grand pronouncement. But, like Woods said, his efforts yesterday were better than one-over. He missed a few tiddlers, had a few bad breaks and generally had one of those "if only" days. "My stats might not show it, but the ball felt so close to being on a string out there – it's coming," he said. "I'm having a hard time judging distances. I'm hitting the ball so much farther. But I didn't putt as well as I did yesterday [for a 68] and consequently I didn't the get round going."

The missed two-footer on the 14th (his fifth) hurt most. He followed that with a missed six-footer for par on the 15th. It was in danger of going south, but he played beautifully over the next three holes. A 10-footer for birdie on the 16th, a six-footer for birdie on the 17th, and a missed eight-footer for another birdie on the 18th.

There was a mini disaster on the sixth (his 15th) when a bunker shot went awry and he three-putted for a double-bogey sixth. But he struck straight back with a 20-footer for a birdie on the seventh. At one-under he is eight back from Adam Scott and facing a mountain to win for the seventh time at Firestone. But at least he won't feel like jumping off a mountain like last year.

Indeed, Tiger looks a completely different animal to the one who slumped at 18-over, with just one finisher behind him in the 80-man field. The 12-week break since his withdrawal at The Players has allowed him to stage a full recovery. His iron play is not yet sharp and his putting is rusty but come the USPGA next week he could well be the force to reckon with again. These are interesting times for golf and for Woods.

The resurgence of Darren Clarke at the Open showed Woods what was possible. The big Ulsterman has struggled here, playing alongside Woods. His 74 left him stranded at 11-over. There is no cut, however, so Clarke can work through his continued golfing hangover. Atlanta, Georgia is very firmly on his mind.

As it is for so many of the competitors here. But for Rickie Fowler the focus must be on the present after a 64 took him to within a shot of Scott on nine-under. The 23-year-old is still waiting for his first professional titles, but as highlighted at the Open, the Californian kid has all the shots and this round featuring eight birdies and an eagle at the second, where he holed his second shot from 110 yards, hinted that the void will soon be redressed.

Scott will be difficult to bypass, however, particularly with Steve Williams on his bag. The Kiwi was sacked by Woods after 12 years and 13 majors together. How he would love to prevail tomorrow and this 70 made it a strong possibility. "Steve's very confident in the way he caddies," said Scott. "That's good for me as it keeps me aggressive and on the front foot."

Rory McIlroy will fancy his chances. Four back after a second successive 68, one finally dropped on the 18th green. "That lifted my spirits," he said. "I'm hitting it very, very well tee to green and if can start to roll them in there is a low one in my bag."

Martin Laird is also in contention for Scotland. A 67 linked on nicely to his opening 66 to leave him one off the clubhouse lead at seven-under. "I didn't know what to expect here this week as I haven't even picked up a club in two weeks," said Laird. The reason? He was married on Saturday in Colorado. Poor Mrs Laird. Akron, Ohio, isn't a great place for a honeymoon. Still, hubby might win $1.4m (£855,000).

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