None of that quartet was named Rory McIlroy, the top-ranked player who struggled with a 73, or No. 3 Luke Donald, who shot a 70. Woods, despite three bogeys, dusted his playing partners, and attributed making four putts beyond 15 feet to tips he received from Steve Stricker.
Woods and Stricker, one of the game’s best putters, spent a lot of time on the practice green on Wednesday. Stricker pointed out posture issues with Woods’ putting and straightened him out.
“Whatever he says, I’m going to do,” Woods said. “He’s one of the best putters who has ever lived.”
Starting on the 10th hole, Woods made birdies at the 11th and 12th, followed by bogeys at the 13th and 14th. He finished the back side with birdies at Nos. 16 and 18, then added two more at the first and second holes. After a bogey at the third, Woods birdied three of the last six to ascend to the top of the leaderboard..
Meanwhile, McIlroy, who quit out of frustration with his game last week in Palm Beach, continued to seek his game. McIlroy could not find his game and the frustration mounted. But he did have two birdies to close his round, which should bolster his confidence.
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He’s going to need to to contend with Woods and co-leaders Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell and Frederik Jacobson.
“It was a bit of a struggle, to be honest,” McIlroy said. “Hit some good shots, hit some not-so good shots. As I’ve been saying, this is a work in progress and I’m working at it and I’m staying patient. … I just had to play each hole as it come. Just shoot the best score possible.”
Woods said he shot better than he what he thought would be needed to be in the mix. “I felt we needed to shoot at least a couple under on each side to be right there,” Woods said. “I got a few more.”
Over the course of day, Woods showed the form that will make him a viable threat all year, if he can maintain close to this level of play.