DORAL, Fla. — Tiger Woods set a personal-best with 17 birdies over two rounds on the Blue Monster. What mattered more to him was a two-shot lead going into the weekend at the Cadillac Championship.
In a World Golf Championship with golf’s biggest names in the hunt, Woods began to pull away with six birdies in an eight-hole stretch around the turn in a clean, crisp exhibition Friday at Doral. That sent him to a 7-under 65, two shots clear of former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, who had a 67.
All it took was one shot for Woods.
After a scrappy session on the range, and failing to birdie the easy opening hole, Woods laced a 4-iron on the 239-yard fourth hole that caught ridge and rolled to tap-in range. His big run ended with another 4-iron, high and soft, on the 224-yard 13th hole.
Those par 3s ranked as the toughest two holes in the second round, and he birdied them both.
The 17 birdies beat his previous best of 16 birdies in the 1999 Byron Nelson Classic. Asked what that meant, Woods smiled and replied, “It left me a two-shot lead.”
Woods was at 13-under 131.
A birdie-birdie finish by McDowell prevented a dream final group for the weekend at Doral — Woods and longtime nemesis Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson, sparked by a visit to Augusta National earlier in the week, hit a 9-iron that stopped inches from dropping for a hole-in-one on the par-3 ninth.
He had a 67 and was three shots behind, along with Steve Stricker (67).
Rory McIlroy showed signs of turning the corner with a 69, although he ended with a sloppy three-putt bogey. It was his first round under par this year, a small consolation for the world’s No. 1 player. He was still 11 shots behind Woods.
Woods, who once owned these WGCs, has not won the last 10 he’s played. But after a key putting tip from Stricker on Wednesday afternoon, Woods looks as comfortable as ever on a Blue Monster course where he has won three times.
“It’s going to be tough to catch him,” Stricker said. “We all know when he gets out in front, he’s tough to catch and tough to beat. Looks like he’s playing well. Looks like all parts of his game are working. Yeah, he’s going to be tough to catch.”
Puerto Rico Open
Argentina’s Andres Romero leads: In Rio Grance, Puerto Rico, Andres Romero shot his second straight 7-under 65 on Friday to take a one-stroke lead in the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open
Romero, the Argentine player who won the PGA Tour’s 2008 New Orleans event and the European Tour’s 2007 Deutsche Bank tournament, had a double bogey on the par-3 eighth hole, then birdied six of the last 10 holes on the Trump International course.
Scott Brown was second after a 63. He eagled the par-4 seventh and had eight birdies and a bogey.