Brian Keogh in Miami
Obituaries for Tiger Woods’ putting stroke were being hastily binned last night as the world number one stormed through the field to grab the halfway lead in the $8 million WGC-CA Championship at the Doral Resort in Miami.
The 31-year-old produced a clinical display on the relaid greens on the feared Blue Monster, knocking in six birdie putts that varied between four inches and 10 feet before ramming in a 10 footer for a par four at the last to post six under par round of 66 and take a two-stroke lead over Australian Rod Pampling (69) on seven under par.
Alarm bells were ringing for Woods long-serving putter after a series of indifferent displays in recent weeks, but the American silenced them in his inimitable fashion with that closing chip and putt par from the front of the 18th green.
Overnight leaders Henrik Stenson and Robert Allenby had a bad day at the office with the Swede hitting just four fairways and dropping shots at the last two holes for a 73 as the Australian made just one birdie in a 74.
"I didn't drive the ball as well as yesterday and that put me in trouble," Stenson said. "But I am still in decent shape for the weekend and hopefully it will be better tomorrow."
A closing bogey by Australian Aaron Baddeley forced him to settle for a 71 and relegated him to a seven-way share of third place with Stenson, Irish Open champion Thomas Bjorn, Americans Zach Johnson and Charles Howell and the South African duo of Ernie Els and Trevor Immelman.
But once again they were all left trailing the game's best player.
Woods birdied the first two holes to move to three under, saved par from eight feet at the ninth and then birdied the 10th, 11th, 12th and 17th without holing anything loner than a 10 footer to move into position to rack up a hat-trick of wins on the Blue Monster.
“Stevie noticed something we didn’t like in my stroke - but we fixed it,” said Woods, who had just 26 putts. “And lo and behold I was able to really putt it by the end.
"It all started at nine, where I had about and eight footer for par and I was able to make that and it was nice to have something positive happen. All of a sudden I was able to make three in a row.”
Padraig Harrington fired a solid 70 to finish the day six shots off the pace in a share of 20th place on one under par. And after knocking some of the rust off this game after a two-week break, he believes he is due a low one over the weekend that could propel him into the mix.
Despite missing a four footer for par at the 15th and then three-putting the third from 35 feet to drop his two shots, the Dubliner had a pleasant day on the greens.
Eleven single putts, the longest of which was a 26 footer for birdie at the sixth, made up for the fact that he hit just nine of the 18 greens in regulation.
“I feel I have a good day in me and I haven't had that yet,” he said afterwards. "The two bogeys I made were very slack bogeys but the rest was pretty good.
"I hit the ball well all day and I think 70 is a reasonably fair representation of the way I played.
"My game is really showing up the fact that I have been two weeks away and each day it will get better and better. I just need to get back into the swing of things, play a few rounds and get competitive.
"Let's wait and see over the next two rounds if I can get a couple of good scores in there. I am playing well and I would just like to be mentally sharper."
After an opening 73, Harrington looked set for another frustrating day when he duffed his 230-yard approach into the water at the par-five 10th before resolving the situation with a pitch and six foot putt.
Missed 12 foot birdie chances at the 11th and 12th looked ominous and he was talking to himself after before lipping out from just four feet for par at the short 15th, where he had a simple, 30-foot chip up the hill from the fringe.
But he hit back straightaway with the putter, holing for birdie from five feet at the 16th and 16 feet at the 17th to get back to level par for the tournament.
Less than 24 hours after making a double bogey at the 18th, he was forced to save a great par this time around after his 200-yard approach flew the green and slammed into the face of the grandstand.
Faced with a slippery recovery from a downhill lie, the reigning European No 1 ran eight feet past the hole but slotted home the putt to remain on level par.
A birdie at the par five opening hole,where he holed a 16 footer after bunkering his second right of the green, put him in red figures again.
But he then took three to get down from the back of the tough, par-four third, leaving his chip eight feet short of the hole.
He was in more trouble at the 378 yard fifth after finding sand behind the pin but splashed out to eight feet and sank the putt.
And it wasn’t long before he edge under par again thanks to a 25 foot bomb at the sixth before parring his way home.