Tiger Woods whips up another blizzard of birdies as Rory McIlroy starts to shine

Former world No 1 leads by two after impressing on the greens but faces McDowell challenge

Kevin Garside
Friday 08 March 2013 22:12
Tiger Woods putted brilliantly in the first round at Doral
Tiger Woods putted brilliantly in the first round at Doral

Wow, the exclamation beloved of the American audience and annexed by Tiger Woods at Miami. Others excelled, too, in benign conditions at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but no-one in this precinct excites like Woods, who leads the deepest field of the year by two shots on 13 under par.

The blizzard of birdies continued with eight more taking his total to 17 for the tournament, a personal best for Woods in the opening two rounds on the PGA Tour. Wow indeed. Woods goes out today with a certain major winner from Northern Ireland. You guessed it, Graeme McDowell. Rory McIlroy also meets that description, of course, and though he enjoyed a better day, carding his first sub-70 round of the year, 69, he is not in contention here.

Woods attributed his arresting transformation on the greens at Doral to a putting clinic from his laser-like Ryder-Cup partner Steve Stricker, who is tied third with Phil Mickelson, three shots behind. "Whatever he says I'm going to do," said Woods of the guru of the greens. "He's one of the best putters that ever lived."

The rapid turnaround is not new to the Woods repertoire this year. He went from a missed cut at Abu Dhabi in January to the top step of the podium at the Farmers Insurance Open a week later at Torrey Pines, a victory underscored by another slide-rule putting display.

"Basically, he got me into the same position I was in a Torrey," Woods said. "He can see things that are a little off because he knows my stroke so well. He gave me a couple of things to think about and lo and behold I started feeling like I did at Torrey and the ball started rolling."

The hoopla surrounding Woods needs little amplification. Despite closing the Honda Classic buried in deep midfield he was still the pre-tournament favourite at Doral, a course on which he has won six times. We are also entering major season, another reason for excitement among the natives. The second World Golf Championship event of the year has come to signal the countdown to Augusta.

Watching Woods make the ball disappear on the greens remains the most compelling sight in golf, the more so when his approach play is commensurate with his finishing.

"My short game is certainly much better since last year," he said. "The things that I have been working on in my long game are finally starting to solidify. I'm now able to hit the shots that I want and I don't get any surprises on distances. It took time to make the change, to come from my old swing to now was a pretty drastic change."

Which brings us neatly to the travails of McIlroy, presently negotiating the technical tightrope that claims every golfer at one point or another. McIlroy is conspicuous by his absence on a leaderboard colonised by major winners, including Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley and Charl Schwartzel as well as Woods, McDowell and Mickelson. But the Ulsterman was much, much better, dispensing with the pre-shot routine introduced on the first day here to combat an errant take-away.

His opening drive was a beauty, splitting the fairway and setting up a welcome birdie. There was a three-putt at the fourth and a fluffed chip at the sixth that led to bogeys, thereafter it was more like the McIlory of old, snaring five birdies over a 10-hole stretch to the 16th. It was a pity that he signed off with a second three-putt from 21 feet, but he was buoyed by what came before on a hole framed by water that strikes fear into mortals.

"I was pleased with today and I saw a lot of good signs," McIlroy said. "I drove the ball much better and for the most part my irons were okay, so something to build on." A wow of sorts, then.

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