Tiger's back in familiar territory -- the lead at Doral

Updated: March 23, 2007, 9:18 PM ET
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

MIAMI -- Putting appears so easy, especially compared to the task of rifling a driver down a narrow fairway or getting a long-iron shot to stop on a rock-hard green.

The average guy cannot relate to the latter, he can only dream about hitting such shots. Rarely, though, does he obsess over putting, the part of the game where a gifted pro does not seem so spectacular.

Of course, putting is not easy, either. Not under the glare of tournament golf, where the greens are slick and getting that ball into the hole can mean the difference between glory and infamy.

"It's frustrating when you're placing the ball on the greens where you need to place it and you give yourself chance after chance, and you're not taking advantage of opportunities. That's awfully frustrating. Somehow, you've got to stay patient through that period.

Tiger Woods
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesTiger Woods' work on the greens helped push him to the top of the charts in the second round.

"It's usually how the game works. You know, you hit it great, putt poorly; hit it poorly, putt great. Welcome to golf."

Who's that speaking? None other than Tiger Woods. And maybe it's nice to know that the game's No. 1 player would occasionally like to break a putter in two or toss it into a nearby water hazard.

It sure looked that way last Sunday at Bay Hill, where Woods was like any weekend warrior over the last nine holes, shooting 43 on his way to a 76, his highest round of the year. And although it was much better on Thursday during the first round of the CA Championship, he still needed 32 putts in a round of 71 that he termed "pathetic."

So there he was Friday during the second round on the famed Blue Monster course at Doral, making just about everything.

He holed two long par putts, including one at the 18th. He made six birdies, no bogeys. And he needed just 26 putts. There were 10 one-putt greens, a day after he had missed eight putts inside of 12 feet. Does anyone make adjustments better and more quickly than Woods?

"I worked on a couple things yesterday," Woods said of a 45-minute practice session. "I told Stevie [Williams, his caddie] what I was feeling and he told me what he saw, and we just kind of worked through it and finally got it to the position where I felt I could release the blade again.

"Yesterday, I felt like I just could not release the putter head. I was dragging it quite a bit, and I don't putt well that way."

Amazing. Wouldn't it be great to have your biggest problem in golf be an inability to release the putter blade properly?

Woods figured it out and shot 66 to -- surprise! -- take the lead in another World Golf Championship event. He's got so much hardware from these tournaments it is hard to keep track. Let's see, Woods has won 12 of the 24 WGCs he's entered. He's won this tournament -- formerly known as the American Express Championship -- five times, including the last two. He's also won the last two PGA Tour events played at Doral.

Tiger has a lot of streaks on the line, but he no doubt is more concerned about the one he'll be pursuing in two weeks at Augusta. There, Woods will be trying to win his fifth Masters and third consecutive major championship.

And it is hard to believe that the Masters wasn't at least in the back of his mind with his poor putting of late. Woods felt he could have won last year's Masters were it not for a putting stroke that abandoned him during the final round, with Phil Mickelson going on to win. Since it was the last tournament his late father, Earl, got to see him play, that loss was even more bothersome.

Woods certainly doesn't want to leave here with a putting stroke in chaos, so seeing several putts drop Friday was a welcome sign. So was the fact that he leads the field in greens hit in regulation with 28 of 36.

"Obviously, I don't think he's going to have the weekend he had at Bay Hill, but you know what, it's a golf course where you've still got to be pretty strong off the tee and play some good shots," said Rod Pampling, who is two shots back and will be paired with Woods on Saturday. "I don't think it's going to happen, but it's still there and it's maybe something that's fresh in his mind. If someone gets near, he may actually feel a little bit of pressure for once."

Tiger? Pressure?

If anything, it will be self-inflicted because it is a good time to see his game -- and putter -- start to peak.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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