Tiger’s ‘process’ beginning to come together

Tiger Woods during the second round at Bay Hill.

Tiger Woods during the second round at Bay Hill.

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Tiger Woods left the Bay Hill driving range Friday morning and headed to the putting green. At 8:20 a.m., he already had begun to sweat through his Nike polo.

Say what you will about Woods’ current swing changes, but there is no denying his commitment to them. With instructor Sean Foley at his side, Woods worked through his entire bag, lob wedge to driver and back again, performing the kind of rudimentary drills you’d see on a Sunday morning at your local public course. As his fellow touring pros bombed drivers and 3-woods all around him, Woods stayed focused on perfecting the still uncertain changes – taking the club slowly back to the top position, pausing, holding and committing the location of his arms and hands to memory before slowly coming through impact and scooting a ground ball into the range’s first cut.

As we’ve heard for weeks, it’s all part of “the process.” Friday’s second round showed that process may be starting to produce some more favorable results.

Woods fired a 4-under 68 on a perfect day for scoring to move to 3 under for the tournament and onto the first page of the leaderboard for much of the day at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It wasn’t perfect golf, as evidenced by his tee shot at the par-5 fourth, a dead pull that missed the fairway by 40 yards. (Woods would go on to birdie after a nifty escape left him 67 yards from the green.) But it was another step forward – another step in the process.

Woods’ ballstriking Friday was the opposite of the player we saw Thursday at Bay Hill and early in the week at Doral. His misses were smaller and a few of the snap-hook tee shots turned into high, towering draws. Apart from a few pulled iron shots, he gave himself numerous chances at birdies, hitting 12 greens. But, as has been the case since the beginning of the swing overhaul, it still wasn’t complete. Something was still missing. It was the putter that left him Friday, as Woods missed a slew of putts inside 15 feet, many of which were left dead-center short.

“It could have been a pretty special round,” said Woods, who was using a different version of his new, heel-shafted Nike putter.

“We softened the grooves up to make sure it’s not as quick ... I wanted something more suited for faster greens,” he explained. “It’s coming off very similar to my (Scotty) Cameron and releasing obviously how I like it.”

Woods’ first errant shot of the day didn’t come until the par-3 17th (his eighth hole of the day), where he yanked his tee shot 25 yards left and bounced it off the grandstands. Tiger made the up-and-down par and moved on to the signature 18th, a hole that has become a factory for fond memories throughout his career. A high draw off the tee left him in the middle of the fairway, but a “terrible 8-iron” left Woods with a downhill 53-footer from the back fringe.

In vintage Tiger fashion, the putt dropped with plenty of pace, leaving a wry smile on the golf world’s most recognizable face. A familiar smile that used to signal some powerful momentum.

But that’s still not enough. Not yet, anyway.

Woods missed the green at the first – his 10th of the day – left a 20-footer short at the second and rinsed his approach shot at the third, all before his wild tee shot at the fourth. Once again, it was flashes of brilliance mixed with a few head-scratching moments. But that seems to be today’s Woods – the one-way-or-another compelling player that drew a Sunday-sized crowd Friday at Bay Hill. He’s in the midst of the process, which will undoubtedly unveil another phase should he contend late into the weekend.

“We are trying to build towards the first major, and that’s kind of how my game is headed,” he said. “It’s building and it’s coming.”

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