Tiger Woods battles to 72 to remain in contention at Bay Hill

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Tiger Woods battles to 72 to remain in contention at Bay Hill

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods battles to 72 to remain in contention at Bay Hill

ORLANDO – Tiger Woods didn’t bring close to his best Friday, but he kept himself in the running at Bay Hill.

It was a struggle for much of the day, but Woods posted a pair of late birdies to salvage an Even par-72 in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He sits at 4-under 140 and seven off the lead held by Henrik Stenson and Bryson DeChambeau.

But with two days to go and in a tie for 17th, Woods is far from out of the running at a course where he’s won eight times.

At the very least, Woods didn’t trick us early into thinking this would be a day where he would post a low number.

The 42-year-old took an iron off the par-4 first and promptly hooked it into the trees. His opening drive went less than 200 yards, and Woods was forced to pitch back out into the fairway, leaving 200 yards for his third. When he couldn’t roll in a 23-footer from the fairway, he had opened with bogey.

The struggles continued from there. He missed the green at the par-3 second but was able to play a deft pitch that stopped about 18 inches short of the cup. That nice par save was followed by an even more impressive one.

Woods flailed an iron right of the green at the par-4 third. Facing a short-sided shot to a back-right pin, Woods played a precious flop that landed in front of the green and rolled 6 feet by the cup. He drained the remainder to avoid going 2 over through three.

Yet, he couldn’t gain momentum from those early scrambles. He failed to birdie both par 5s (Nos. 4 and 6) on the front nine and didn’t hit his first green of the day until the par-4 fifth.

He had just one birdie chance inside 15 feet – a 12-footer at No. 6 – and missed that. After he raced a 61-footer well by the cup and onto the fringe and missed the 13-foot comebacker from there at the par-4 ninth, Woods was out in 2-over 38.

Suddenly he was 2 under overall and nine back. This was just a day after he held the outright lead late in his round.

He had looked out of sorts, too, from tee to green over the front nine, so there didn’t appear to be a great hope of a turnaround. And Woods indeed didn’t light up the back nine, but he dug in and did enough not to put himself out of it on Friday.

Woods had trouble finding the fairway for most of his first 11 holes – and frankly, he was fortunate on No. 4, when his ball was a yard from going out of bounds right but hit the inside of the OB net andstayed in – but he pumped a drive 323 yards down the fairway at the par-5 12th, launched his second just over the green and putted from the fairway from some 50 feet to tap-in range. The ensuing birdie was his first of the day, moved him back to 3 under overall and 1 over for Friday.

But it was a two-hole stretch later that really allowed him to finish off his late surge.

Woods’ second at the par-4 15th drifted left and ended up in a horrible, plugged lie at the edge of a bunker. Short-sided in a brutal lie, Woods blasted out 22 feet beyond the pin. Facing the prospect of an ill-timed bogey, he proceeded to drain the putt to stave off another shot lost.

He then hit his drive at the par-5 16th into the right rough, but with a mighty and bold lash from there, he got his second to finish in the fringe some 22 feet away from a tucked pin. Two putts from there meant another birdie, 4 under and back to even par for the day.

A pair of closing pars sealed an even-par 72, although that did include a 15-footer for birdie at the last that agonizingly crawled to the right edge of the cup and lipped out.

This was definitely a rough Friday. Woods found 8/14 fairways in the end and his driving did seem to come around late. But he still found less than 60 percent of fairways on a day when the majority of his tee shots were with irons. Some of his fairway misses were with irons, which is troubling.

While he found just 10 greens in regulation, four of those he missed by a yard or two. Still, he had a few of baffling misses on approaches. Most of the others seemed crisp, yet his distance control was shaky.

As always in this comeback, his work around the greens was something to marvel at. Those par saves at Nos. 3 and 15 may’ve meant the difference between a 72 and a 74 or more. His putter wasn’t spectacular, but it was solid and holed a few key putts.

Friday was certainly a step back from Woods’ strong opening round. But with his game clearly not there in Round 2, he still shot 72 and was able to remain in it with 36 holes to play.

He’ll need two stellar weekend rounds to record PGA Tour win No. 80, but Woods did at least prove again Friday that his grinding ways of old are still in fine form.

And enough for him to avoid a second-round knockout.

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