Tiger Woods hasn’t yet lost his ability to get a huge crowd rockin’ and rollin.’
He may no longer be the No. 1 player in the world, but Woods is still the No. 1 draw in golf, and on Friday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, Woods electrified the fans with a series of big shots and bigger putts.
And, more importantly, he gave himself a big chance to end a victory drought on the PGA TOUR that is now more than 18 months old, dating back to the 2009 BMW Championship.
After struggling to a 1-over-par 73 in gusting winds Thursday, Woods was among the players who went into attack mode Friday morning on a more hospitable Championship Course here at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge. With the breeze ebbing and the greens more accommodating, Woods fashioned a 4-under-par 68.
At 3-under 141, Woods is five behind leader Spencer Levin, K. J. Choi and Martin Laird, leaving him in his best position this year heading into the weekend. And he was encouraged by many parts of his game as he rebuilds under the tutelage of Orlando instructor Sean Foley.
“I was just hitting it about as good as I did coming home yesterday,” Woods said. “I really striped it coming in yesterday. I hit my irons well all day yesterday, and I did about the same thing all day today. It's kind of the same feeling and working on the same things that Sean and I are working on, and they are starting to become a little more fluid.”
Now No. 5 in the world ranking, Woods, who missed this event last year after winning in 2008 and 2009, had five birdies Friday to offset his only bogey at the par-4 third hole. But he rebounded immediately by sinking an 11-foot putt after a pitch shot from 64 yards into the par-5 fourth.
He looked a lot like the player who has won this tournament six times.
“I'm right there. I'm right now five back,” Woods said. “I’m still right there. Long weekend ahead of us with temperatures supposed to be getting up. Depends on how much water they put on these things (the greens). They were pretty fast today.”
Woods used a new mallet putter Friday that has softer grooves and is built for faster greens, and he needed just 26 putts. The biggest putts were the 53-footer from the fringe at 18 and a 23-foot effort on the ninth to end his day. Both birdies elicited large roars from the gallery.
Asked if it felt like old times out there, Woods responded, “It did. It felt good.”