Tiger Woods and Charlie Wi are your 36-hole co-leaders at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Wi may have been in this position a few times, but for Woods, this is exceedingly familiar.
After a solid Thursday, 69, Woods exploded Friday, carding seven birdies against zero bogeys for a second-day 65. Woods finally got all of the facets of his game working, hitting 10 of 14 fairways, 17 of 18 greens and needing 30 putts (a good number considering the number of greens he hit) on his way to the outright lead.
Woods squandered opportunities early, missing makeable birdie putts on each of his first three holes, but he caught fire soon after that. The 36-year-old birdied holes four, five and six and holed a 32-foot bomb on seven to cap off a string of four consecutive birdies.
Woods then played steady golf, continuing to hit fairways and greens and putting in the occasional birdie on the par-fives. Woods capped off his round by holing a 15-footer for birdie on 17, a putt that produced a huge roar in the waning moments of the day.
Still, despite Woods' excellent play Friday, he hasn't won quite yet. In fact, he still has half the tournament to go. As much as fans want to see Woods back on top, they should be cautious with their optimism.
Woods has shown flashes of his old self recently, but he hasn't put it all back together. Just this past November, Woods held a 36-hole lead at the Emirates Australian Open and looked primed for his first victory since 2009. In almost the exact position he finds himself Friday evening at Bay Hill, Woods faltered in Australia, struggling to a third-round 75 that left him too far back for victory.
Woods even blew a 54-hole lead earlier this season, hitting just two fairways and six greens in a final round 72 that left him short of an unknown named Robert Rock.
This is not to say that the Tiger of old wasn't present Friday. Woods was in control of his game, hitting fantastic shots that few could duplicate (see approach shot on 10) and, most of all, was making key putts.
But if the past few months have proven anything, Woods still hasn't totally put the puzzle back together. There are (official) tournaments where he puts two or even three good rounds, but not four.
Woods can take the next step this weekend at Bay Hill. He has been in contention lately, but contention is not the same as winning. His experience at Pebble summed that up, Phil Mickelson took the initiative, shot 64 and won the tournament, while Woods fell back and out of the top 10 with a 75.
This isn't the time for a weekend flameout. Woods must perform this weekend if he wants to return to the winners' circle.
The Tiger of old was there Friday, but with two days and 36 holes still ahead, Woods still has much to prove before he is a winner again.
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