DORAL, Fla. — By Sunday afternoon, Steve Stricker might really regret giving Tiger Woods that putting lesson the other day.
Woods is proving to be an excellent student.
The world’s No. 2 player, Woods rolled in eight birdie putts in shooting a 7-under-par 65 in Friday’s second round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at the Blue Monster at Trump Doral.
Woods, who had nine birdies and 23 putts in a round of 66 Thursday, was at 13 under par 131 for a two-shot lead over Graeme McDowell. Woods’ 17 birdies were a personal best for the first two rounds of any tournament.
McDowell fired a bogey-free 67 to finish at 11 under and earn a spot in the final twosome. Phil Mickelson and Stricker also shot 67 to end up in a tie for third at 10 under.
“It’s good to see him putting well,” said Stricker, who suggested Woods change his posture slightly, which had Woods rolling the ball significantly better on the Blue Monster’s firm greens. “It’s good for us, it’s good for the game and it’s always good when he plays well. Unfortunately we are chasing him, so it’s going to be difficult.”
Woods hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation and needed only 26 putts Friday. He hit into three greenside bunkers and got up and down each time.
He said he got off to a sluggish start, but everything changed when he hit a “sweet little 4-iron” to 4 1/2 feet on the 239-yard, par-3 fourth hole and made the birdie putt. He picked up three more birdies on the next four holes to get to 10 under. Birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 put him in the lead for good.
“I’m playing well, and I made a bunch of putts,” said Woods, a three-time winner here. “But more importantly, I left myself in the right spots to make putts and I think that’s probably the biggest key. I left myself where I didn’t have that many downwind, downhill, downgrain putts.
“Just leave the ball in the correct spots where I could be aggressive and I’ve done that for the first two days.”
Case in point: Woods drove into a greenside bunker on the 372-yard, par-4 16th. He deliberately left his sand shot below the hole and sank the 9-footer for birdie.
Woods said the tips from Stricker, who is considered one of the game’s best putters, has him putting like he did when he won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines by four shots in January.
“It feels very similar, if not almost identical, to where I was at Torrey, my body position, my line, my feel, the way the club is moving and the feeling in my hands,” Woods said. “We get off from time to time and Stricks knows my stroke and he saw a few things and lo and behold, he made a few suggestions.
“I’ve made some putts in the last few days. But he’s still not getting a percentage.”
McDowell, who has not made a bogey, went out in 1-under 35 on the back nine. He got to 3 under for the round, took a look at the scoreboard and finished with birdies on Nos. 8 and 9.
“I saw Phil sneaking up the leaderboard there behind me and I told (my caddie), ‘Let’s spoil that party.’ I’m sure they would have liked Tiger and Phil in the last group tomorrow,” said McDowell, who knocked a 9-iron to 3 feet on the 160-yard par-3 9th.
“It was nice to finish with a couple of birdies. It was a solid day. I drove the ball really well today, much better than yesterday. There’s not a lot of rough on this golf course, but you’ve got to keep it in the fairways to give yourself a chance to control it coming into the greens because they are super firm and super fast and you really need to be able to spin the ball a little bit coming into the greens.”
McDowell said he looks forward to playing with Woods on Saturday. His goal is to maintain his position and try to give himself a chance to win on Sunday.
The way Woods has been playing, McDowell might not get that chance.
“It looks like he’s playing well,” Stricker said of Woods. “All parts of his game are working.”
Especially his putting.