Padraig Harrington believes he is close to hitting top form for the Masters after a second round 68 left him just three strokes behind clubhouse leader Jason Gore and battling for victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

Bidding to win his third major in a row at Augusta in two weeks' time, the Dubliner is pleased to find himself in the thick of the action after a slow start to his season.

"It's been a good situation for me the last two days, having a bit more hype about and a bit more going on," Harrington said. "I'm in the tournament as well and that's the sort of position I need.

"I don't win tournaments out of the blue. I need to be in that position, feeling that sort of tension for me to go and win the next time. I do need to be getting that feeling if I want to be there at the Masters, that's for sure." 

Harrington outscored playing partner Tiger Woods by a shot thanks to a stress-free long game. But was irritated to missed three birdie chances in his last six holes before closing with a three-putt bogey on his final hole.

As Graeme McDowell birdied the 18th for a one-under par 69 that left him inside the top 30 on one-under par, Harrington explained that he still work to do to be 100 percent ready for the Masters, especially on the greens.

Harrington said: "It's getting there. There is some work that needs to be done. I need to be a little bit more trusting all the way through my game.

"Today, especially on the greens, I wasn't great. It was hard work, even the putts I was knocking in, there wasn't much flow in that. But all the way through my game, a little more trust and I will be right there.

"I'm kind of happy enough with what I'm working on and where I'm going. As I say, on the golf course, if I need a little brushing up and I can do that over the next couple days.

"I haven't putted very well for the two days, so that needs to be a bit better. I just need to be a bit more trusting all the way through my game."

Harrington drove the ball extremely well, missing just two fairways all day. But he was dissatisfied with his conversion rate on the greens and irked by that three-putt from nearly 50 feet at the ninth.

Starting on the back nine, the Open and US PGA champion holed an 18 footer for birdie at the 15th and then chipped in for birdie from 20 feet at the first.

And while he knocked in a 12 footer for a birdie two at the 197-yard seventh to get to three under, he was frustrated to miss nine footers for birdie at the third, sixth and eighth as well as a seven-foot par saver at the ninth.

"It's more about read than anything else," Harrington said of his putting.  "I need to trust that the read is good and just hit it on the line I pick. And if I do that, I'll have a better result overall. I just was a little bit tentative on my putting.

"I thought I played better yesterday. The 70 yesterday was better than the 68 today and obviousy I gave away an easy three-putt on the last and missed a few short birdie putts coming in. 

"I felt that 66 would have been more of a fair return. I definitely thought that with softer greens in the morning and a little less wind, conditions were easier today than yesterday.

"It's always good to shoot two-under par around here, but I am disappointed there, three-putting the last and missing three short birdie putts in the last six holes. Things like that happen at times, but still happy with the score."

Woods had three birdies and two bogeys in his 69 but missed six fairways and nine greens as he struggled with his long game in the blustery conditions.

But his short game was razor sharp and an 88 percent scrambling percentage, which included two chip ins, seriously impressed Harrington.

"He certainly spent his time off chipping," said Harrington, referring to Woods' eight-month absence from knee surgery. "I don't think I've ever seen a finer exhibition."

Woods said: "I played decent today. I didn't hit the ball as well as I'd like to, but I kind of grinded my way along the golf course today and had two chip-ins, which was nice."

He began by chipping in from 20 feet for a birdie at the 10th, birdied the par-five 12th, three-putted the par-4 16th for a bogey. He then bogeyed the first when his tee shofonished under the lip of a bunker but got up and down from over the green for bogey after being forced to chip out sideways.

He had to chip out sideways again at the par-five sixth but made par before chipping in from 40 feet for another birdie at the eighth.

Asked if his lay-off had helped his short game, Woods said: "Yeah, but I think it's also getting more game time experience.  When I first came back at Match Play I didn't feel my short game was very good.  It got a little better every day at Doral and then this week is even better.  

"It's just getting my feel back.  It's a little different than chipping at home. We don't have rough like this, so it was kind of nice to get out here and experience that and actually get my feel."

As for the long game, Woods didn't sound overly concerned about his inconsistency, explaining: "I'm a little bit frustrated in the sense that I haven't controlled my flight as well this week.  I was really flighting it pretty good at Doral, and I'm not flighting it as well here.

"My shapes are fine.  If I miss it, I just overshape it, that's fine; that's an easy fix.  But I like to be able to control my trajectory a little bit better, especially when the wind is blowing like this."