March 02, 2012

Tiger finishes strong to keep Honda hopes alive

Lurking dangerously close to the cut line, Tiger Woods made a late charge Friday in the second round of The Honda Classic at PGA National Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., to assure himself of playing on the weekend.

Tiger birdied his last two holes — the par-4 eighth and par-4 ninth — to shoot a 2-under-par 68. He has a 36-hole score of 1-under 139, seven strokes behind leaders Tom Gillis and Justin Rose.

“It was nice to get that kind of finish, because I was struggling today a little bit trying to find a motion that was going to get the job done,” said Woods. “I didn’t really have it today, but I scored. That’s something I can take out of the round.”

An early back-nine starter with Lee Westwood and Miguel Angel Carballo, Woods parred the first three holes. At the 388-yard, par-4 13th, Tiger hit a nice drive and knocked a wedge one foot from the cup for an easy birdie.

Woods gave back the shot at the 465-yard, par-4 14th, where he drove into the right rough, came up just short of the green with his second shot and was unable to get up-and-down. Moving to the 179-yard, par-3 15th — the first of three challenging holes known as the Bear Trap, named for architect Jack Nicklaus — Woods missed the green way left, then hit a beautiful sand wedge three feet from the hole and salvaged par.

At the 434-yard, par-4 16th, which features water along the right side of the hole and in front of the green, Woods, after piping a good tee shot down the center of the fairway, hit his approach shot from 173 yards 25 feet from the cup and buried the birdie putt. He also parred the testy, 190-yard, par-3 17th to play the stretch in 1-under.

Woods drove into the right rough at the 556-yard, par-5 18th. After a good layup, he had 117 yards to the hole and hit his third shot 11 feet from the cup but was unable to capitalize, two-putting for a par to make the turn in 1-under 34.

Following a two-putt par at the first hole, Woods made a nice par save at the par-4 second, where he came up short of the green from the left rough with his approach shot. Tiger gave himself a good birdie opportunity at the par-5 third hole, but missed a seven-foot birdie attempt.

At the 376-yard, par-4 fourth, Woods knocked a wedge from 122 yards just inside seven feet of the cup and converted the birdie putt. But Tiger dropped two shots at the 217-yard, par-3 fifth hole, where he hit his tee shot into the water on the left, took a penalty drop, knocked his third shot 19 feet from the cup, and two-putted for a double bogey.

“I made some bad swings today, but somehow I managed to score,” Woods said.

Knowing he needed a strong finish to guard against missing the cut, Woods went to work. He made a nice par save at the 479-yard, par-4 sixth hole, where he drove into the right rough, hit his second shot long, and wound up making a five-foot putt.

After a two-putt par from 22 feet at the par-3 seventh hole, Woods split the fairway at the 427-yard eighth hole. From there, he flagged his approach shot from 137 yards to just outside six feet and made the birdie putt.

He culminated his round with another birdie at the 421-yard ninth hole, where he again drove accurately, hit his second shot 11 feet from the cup, and poured in the putt.

Woods hit 56 percent of the greens and 57 percent of the fairways in regulation, but made up for it on the putting surfaces. After using 34 putts on Thursday, he had 24 on Friday.

“I know I putted a lot better today,” Woods said. “Finally got putts to the hole, and that was kind of the goal today was not leave one putt short. Wasn’t quite successful at it, but that was certainly what I was trying to do.”

Woods, playing in the tournament for the first time as a professional, asked caddie Joe LaCava to help him read some putts, something he doesn’t normally do.

“We struggled on a few of the reads,” Tiger said. “I called Joey in on quite a few putts because we had double-breakers plus a green going in two different directions, and it’s a little confusing.”

Tiger said he never worried about making the cut.

“No, I told Joey on the last couple of holes, ‘We go birdie-birdie, we’ll be within seven,'” Woods said. “And that’s really doable on this golf course. You know, the guys — they don’t really go that low, so if we post a low one tomorrow, we’ll be right back in it.”

Although there are only two par-5s on the course, Woods has yet to birdie either through the first two rounds.

“It was a little bit of a fight today,” he said. “Probably the worst I’ve hit the ball in months. I figured something out at the very end, the last four holes. After the tee shot at 6, unfortunately it took me that long to figure it out. But once I figured it out, I hit some good shots coming in.”

Tiger will begin play in the third round at 10:57 a.m. on Saturday, where he will be paired with Lee Westwood for the third straight day.