DORAL, Fla. – If it has been said once, it has been said hundreds of times in recent years by Tiger Woods observers: He doesn’t putt as well as he used to, particularly on greens he has never seen before. That might well be, but Saturday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship hardly supported the notion.
The 38-year-old Woods putted like it was 1999, or 2000, or pick a calendar year in which he seemed to consistently roll the ball into the cup from hither and yon. The backbone of the Saturday Special 66 that vaulted him into contention was this: He holed eight birdie putts totaling 108 feet.
“I got my speed right and felt like I hit the ball a little better and left myself in good spots,” Woods said after 14 greens in regulation on the redesigned Trump National Doral.
His week has improved daily. It began Sunday with recurring back pain and withdrawal after 13 holes at the Honda Classic. It was followed by three days of treatment and no full swings, much less a practice round. Hence, though he has won four PGA Tour titles at Doral, it was reasonable to discount Woods’ chances here this time because of a poor start to the season, the back issue, rust, lack of preparation and the fact he had never played architect Gil Hanse’s facelift of the Blue Monster.
But Woods is Woods, and it long has been risky business to doubt this man who has won 79 Tour titles. So after a hard-fought 73 in wind that gusted to 36 mph Friday and the 6-under-par round on a sunny, mild Saturday, Woods checks in as a threat instead of a question mark.
His goal entering the day was to shoot 67 and get back to even par. He did one better and ended the day in a tie for fourth place, three shots behind leader Patrick Reed.
“It was nice to get back in the tournament again,” Woods said.
Interestingly, Woods climbed even though he said couldn’t help but think about his sore back during the round. But it held up a day after playing 26 holes.
“I was pretty sore last night,” he said, “but (I’ve had) treatment every day and my therapists are doing a fantastic job of getting me out there and playing.”
The result was his most complete round of the year – one he deemed better than his 65 at the Honda Classic last Saturday. Much better ball-striking was his reasoning.
“I felt like my swing is coming around, which is nice,” Woods said. “I just need to get healthy enough to where I can put the club in that position. When I feel good, I can put it there. It’s nice.”
His putting, meanwhile, was beyond nice Saturday. Woods took 25 putts for the round and birdied eight of the first 16 holes, five from 11 feet or longer. He converted from 7 feet at the first, 13 feet at the third, 11 feet at the fifth, 4 feet on the par-5 eighth, 16 and 22 feet at the 11th and 12th, 35 feet at the short 15th and from 3 feet at the 305-yard 16th after driving into a greenside bunker.
His two bogeys came at the par-3 third, where he missed from 4 feet after lagging from 12 yards, and after he left a bunker shot in the sand at the 13th.
The round before, when wind blew the scoring average up to 76, Woods hit three balls into water in the firm, fast conditions. But that was then, this is now.
“Now it’s playing more like a normal course,” Woods said.
And coincidentally he played like his norm of old.