Graeme McDowell fired a flawless, nine under 63 to exact some revenge on Bay Hill as Tiger Woods and Charlie Wi took command in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The Ulsterman missed just one green as he finished eagle-par-birdie to race to the top the leaderboard alongside the in-form Jason Dufner (69) on nine under par but ended the day one adrift as Woods shot a 65 and Wi a 68.
McDowell’s red-hot round came just 12 months after he opened with rounds of 80 at the Orlando venue to miss the cut for the second year running. The year before he made a quadruple bogey eight at the 18th on Friday.
“I do [love Bay Hill],” McDowell said. “Second here in ‘05 really kick-started my PGA Tour career. But I’ve had two blow outs here the last couple of years. In 2010 I was there in the mix and managed to three putt 17 and made a bit of an oopsy on the last and missed the cut in the end.
“Then last year my head was in a bit of a tailspin and I wasn’t really playing good. But this is a golf course I have always felt I can get round and I always put it in my schedule. It’s nice to be in the mix going into the weekend at a great tournament.”
Recalling last year, McDowell added: “That 80 was a wake-up call, but I didn’t wake up for another four months or so. It was more of the panic button. It was a pretty awful four or five months for me.
“But like I say, I feel like you learn more from those types of experiences than you do from shooting 63 at Bay Hill. There’s not much to learn out there except that if you play great and hole some putts, you can go low.”
Woods rattled off four straight birdies early in his round, then made back-to-back birdies late in the afternoon for a seven-under 65 that gave him a share of the lead with Wi on 10 under.
He had 18 birdie putts yesterday as he topped the leaderboard going into the weekend for the first time in 30 months on the US Tour.
“It was a solid round of golf,” Woods said. “I felt like I actually hit it better yesterday than I did today. I’ve made more putts today, for sure.
“I felt great over the putter. My speed was good. I left a couple putts dead short, right in the centre of the hole. Actually, it really could have been a really low round. A lot of positives today.”
Wi, the 54-hole leader at Pebble Beach this year, rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on his last hole for a 68 to join Woods at 10-under 134.
McDowell was tied for third with Dufner on 135 and happy to follow some great ball-striking with some good putting.
“I struck the ball beautifully both days,” McDowell said after adding a 63 to his opening 72. “Yesterday I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. And this has got a major feel to it in terms of set up, especially yesterday afternoon. You had to be smart and play to the correct side of pins and control your ball flight.”
After missing birdie chances from 15 feet at the first and five feet at the second, McDowell two putted for birdie at the par-five fourth from 17 feet and then holed a four footer at the next to move to two under.
He missed a four foot birdie chance at the par-five sixth but made amends by holing a from around 30 feet for birdie at both the seventh and eighth to turn in 32.
“Today I got off to a slow start, believe it or not,” he said. “I was cold with the putter early on and the key to the last 12 or 13 hole was making a few putts and seeing the ball go in the hole a little bit.
“As I say, I’ve controlled the ball very well for two days, made very few mistakes and capitalised on a few good shots today. I am very happy with the way I am swinging the club.
“I am shaping it well and I have got my starting lines where I want them to be. I have worked hard and the game has felt likes it’s been simmering nicely this season.
“I’ve paced myself and not played a lot of golf and I’m ready for a big spring-summer now and feeling good about where I am at mentally and physically.
“It’s nice to be in the mix in one of my favourite PGA Tour events. There are some quality players up on that board and I will just try to keep on doing what I am doing and maybe give myself a chance come Sunday avo.”
Taking advantage of some superb driving, he hit wedges to four feet and six feet at the 10th and par-five 12th to get to six under and then drained a crucial five footer for par at the 14th to avoid a three-putt bogey.
The highlight of his round came at the 16th, where he drilled a 216-yard approach to just seven feet and rolled in the putt for eagle.
Now eight under for the day, the 32-year old from Portrush rounded off his day in style by holing a 10 footer for birdie at the last.
“I’ve been working hard with this new Cleveland driver and feel like I am just getting it dialled in now these last couple of week and my iron play is right where I want it to be,” the 2010 US Open champion added.
His nine under par effort wasnt his lowest on the PGA Tour.
That came in January last year when he closed with an 11 under 62 to finish third in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
It was his first event following a stellar 2010 season that saw him clinch the Ryder Cup winning point at Celtic Manor and rack up four individual wins, including his maiden Major title in the US Open at Pebble Beach
However, it turned out to be a 2011 campaign full of disappointments and unfulfilled ambition and he did not show any consistent form until November when he finished third in the WGC-HSBC Champions and the Mission Hills World Cup (with Rory McIlroy).