Tiger Woods faced a rollercoaster late Friday, but he enters the weekend right in the thick of it.
A late double bogey-bogey stretch dropped Woods to 2 over, but he fought back with a birdie to post a 1-over 71 in the second round of the Honda Classic and put himself with four of the lead through 36 holes at PGA National. (Luke List and Jamie Lovemark are tied for the lead at 3 under, and Woods sits T-14.)
A week after Woods faded late at the Genesis Open to miss the cut comfortably, he has looked demonstrably better in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. His opening 70 was promising, especially on the ball-striking front, but he needed to back that up.
He did so on a windy and difficult Friday.
The 42-year-old looked shaky early in Round 2, hitting wayward shots all over the first three holes – including an iron off the par-4 second tee that went so far left Woods ended up inside a lateral hazard.
In fact, he nearly lost that ball but ended up finding it in a plant and took an unplayable. He later made a 9-footer on the hole just to save bogey.
But Woods rolled in an 8-footer for birdie at the par-4 fourth and seemed to calm down from there. A series of pars followed, and then Woods electrified the course when he dropped a 24-footer for birdie at the par-4 ninth to go out in 1-under 34.
He was now 1 under overall and just three back.
Woods missed a good birdie chance from 9 feet at the par-4 10th, but vintage Tiger reemerged at the next hole.
An iron into the rough at the par 4 forced a lay up, from which he knocked a wedge inside 13 feet. Now two off the lead, Woods faced this important par-saving putt to keep his round on track.
He drained it, and then showed what that meant by authoring a spirited fist pump. Woods proceeded to knock one inside 9 feet at the par-4 12th and had that birdie putt to move to 2 under and within one of the lead.
But the putt was always right and Woods settled for par.
From there, it was a scramble to the finish. Woods got up and down for pars from bunkers at 13 and 14, but his round appeared it might fall off the rails thereafter.
He immediately got swallowed by The Bear Trap (Nos. 15-17) when on the par-3 15th tee he dunked one short in the water. It would lead to a double bogey. Woods compounded the mistake by three-putting for bogey at the par-4 16th.
He now entered No. 17, the toughest hole on the course and one of the most dangerous with water all around, 2 over and fading hard.
But Woods then hit a brilliant tee shot at the par 3, drawing a “chip” 5-iron to 12 feet. He buried the putt for a huge birdie to move back to 1 over, where he would finish.
This is another great day to build on. After some early struggles, Woods looked pretty good driving the ball. His driver came alive a bit, especially on a 361-yard bomb down the fairway at the 10th.
He seemed to be hitting the shots he wanted from tee to green and most of his misses were good. His short game remains sharp and his putter was overall solid.
Overall, he found 8 of 14 fairways, hit 11 of 18 greens and took 28 putts.
Woods just looked so comfortable, especially from tee to green for a majority of the round, on a day where conditions were quite difficult. And this is just his eighth PGA Tour round since his comeback, so the progress has been swift.
But there remains plenty of room for improvement. Some sloppiness is definitely still there, and Woods missed some key birdie opportunities.
For our money, he’s still missing in bad spots a little more than he did in the past.
But through 36 holes, Woods is in firm contention to win. Just three starts in, that’s pretty exciting to see.