Woods lurks, McDowell floats, McIlroy sinks
Rory McIlroy cuts his approach to the 18th. Picture: Fran Caffrey  www.golffile.ie

Rory McIlroy cuts his approach to the 18th. Picture: Fran Caffrey www.golffile.ie

With a five weeks to go before the Masters there's just one thing consistent about Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy — their inconsistency.

The world 1 and the current No 6 continue to mix the sublime with the ridiculous, following brilliant golf with mediocrity and vice-versa. In McIlroy's case it was another false dawn after the battling 74 of Friday — a 75 that featured a pair of disconcerting pull hooks and two sevens on his card.

For much of this season, it's been poor fare from 38-year old Woods, who is hoping to challenge for his fifth green jacket and his first since 2005 in five weeks' time.

But after misfiring in his first two strokeplay starts of the season and then withdrawing with back spasms after 13 holes of the final round of the Honda Classic last week having lifted the gloom with a third round 65, the 14-time major winner shot a six under 66 at Trump National Doral to haul himself into contention for the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Eight birdies and two bogeys was a fine bounty for Woods the day after the field, decimated by high winds and firm and fast conditions, averaged 76 on the new-look Blue Monster.

"I hit it good today," Woods said. "I feel like my swing is coming around, which is nice. 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."

While just three players broke par on Friday, 27 did so yesterday with Patrick Reed's 69 leaving him two clear of US PGA champion Jason Dufner (68) and Hunter Mahan (71) on four under par.

Woods is just three strokes off the pace on one-under and tied for fourth with the Welshman Jamie Donaldson, who shot a 71 as playing partner McIlroy disappointed with a three over par round that could have been worse had he not conjured up a magical, chip-in birdie three at the 18th.

The pride of Holywood was out of position once more on a day of mild breezes and brilliant sunshine, blocked out by palm trees right of the spectator ropes at the 18th.

But he managed to cut his 171-yard approach to the right edge of the green and hole out to end a disappointing day on a happy note, albeit seven shots behind Reed in 19th spot on three over

Graeme McDowell is happy with his putting but concerned about his driving. Picture: Fran Caffrey  www.golffile.ie

Graeme McDowell is happy with his putting but concerned about his driving. Picture: Fran Caffrey www.golffile.ie

The former world No 1 had kept himself in the tournament with a battling 74 on Friday but after briefly joining the lead with a birdie at the second and remaining in contention by following a careless bogey at the third - he bunkered his approach having been fortunate not to trickle in the water with his tee-shot - with an aggressive birdie at the sixth, he unravelled around the turn.

After a bogey at the seventh, where he flew through the green attacking a back pin with a wedge and then missed a four footer, he pulled an approach and a tee-shot into water to run up a grizzly pair of double bogey sevens at the eighth and 10th, leaving himself needing a round in the mid sixties to have any chance of winning today.

As Graeme McDowell, his swing out of kilter following Friday's wind-blown round, shot a 73 to remain in the hunt on one over, McIlroy was left to wonder why he pulled his approach into the lake at the eighth and then did the same off the tee at the 10th.

In both instances, he compounded the errors, three-putting the eighth and fluffing a pitch into a trap at the 10th, where he had to hole a 22 footer for double.

"I thought I might as well chip in because I couldn't hole a putt," McIlroy joked of his birdie at the last. "It was a tough day."

Having paid the price for some (arguably) over-aggressive approach play and a few loose tee shots, he knows he's going to need help from the leader and a low round today to have any chance.

And if it was over aggression, he put his own spin on it by explaining that the new Blue Monster simply forces you to be more defensive. It clearly put him on the back foot.

"It's really hard," he said. "It's really hard to be aggressive.  You're shooting away from a lot of pins.  You're trying to put your ball in the right place.  Even at the first and the 12th today, for example, par fives, I hit two good tee shots down there and the best place to try and leave it was not on the green.

"So when you've got a four-iron into a par five and you don't want to hit the green, and you've got a five-wood into a par five and you'd rather not hit the green, then you know it's just a tricky setup.

"It was just where they put the pin positions. It's very hard to be aggressive. You've just got to play to the right spots and try and get up and downs when you can, which goes against my natural sort of instinct."

It was the cut shot that failed him at the Honda Classic, where he blew the final round lead and lost in a playoff, but he refused to blame that shot for his Blue Monster blues yesterday.

"Hitting two balls in the water, I didn't play the par fives well at all," he said. "Played those in four-over. So when you do that around here, you're sort of putting yourself behind the eight-ball a little bit.

"It wasn't the cut. On the 10th hole, it was just a poor drive and the eighth hole, as well, was poor. I wasn't trying to cut them at all, just trying to hit dead straight shots. I just lost them both a little left. 

"But for the most part, the rest of the game felt okay, apart from those two holes. I didn't take advantage of a couple of good positions I got myself into. On the par five, 12th or when I hit it just over the green on (the driveable) 16. 

"I felt like I hit some good putts that just didn't drop. Obviously it was an easier day but it was still a bit of a grind out there."

McIlroy bogeyed the seventh off a perfect tee shot too but while he admitted that Friday took a lot out of him, he was not making excuses.

"The second shot was good there.  It was a wedge.  It was a decent shot that I played, the third shot, sort of belly wedge and I just under-read the putt.  Didn't think it was going to go as far left as it did.

Rory McIlroy had his best driving day of the week on Saturday but couldn't take advantage. Picture: Fran Caffrey  www.golffile.ie

Rory McIlroy had his best driving day of the week on Saturday but couldn't take advantage. Picture: Fran Caffrey www.golffile.ie

"It was a day to just sort of shoot something, especially the position I was in, to shoot a couple under and get yourself right there.

"But the way it's looking, no one is getting away.... You've got to think if you start well tomorrow and get off to a fast start, you can still have somewhat of a chance.

"I'll just go out and try and play better tomorrow and post a low one and see what happens."

A low final round would send McIlroyy into a three week break with high hopes for the Masters before he reappears in Houston.

"That would be a nice way to finish," he said. "I shot 65 in the last round here last year to get myself in the Top-10. 

"I need something like that tomorrow to have a chance to win but to get into the Top-10, I wouldn't need something that low. But I'll be trying to go as low as possible.  There's guys out there that shot five, six under par, so it's possible."

As for McDowell, the Portrush man headed straight for the range to sort out his driving having shot a 73 to fall back from fourth into a five-way tie for ninth on one-over.

"I haven't blown myself out of the tournament which is a good thing,"McDowell said after mixing three birdies with four bogeys.  "I'm still well within touch for tomorrow. 

"I didn't play very well today.  Rhythm was a bit out, whether that was something to do with the winds yesterday or what. I didn't have a very good warm up this morning. I was a bit out of rhythm out there." 

Believing a 66 and a five-under total might be good enough to win, McDowell said: "I feel really good on the greens so I need to drive it in the fairway more tomorrow.

"I didn't drive it in the fairways enough today.  Didn't give my iron play a chance. 

"So my iron play is in decent shape, wedge play is good, putting's good. I just need to get in the fairway a bit more often tomorrow."