Tiger shoots solid 2-under 70 at Augusta

Updated: April 10, 2010, 11:29 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- After all the consternation over competition -- or the lack thereof -- Tiger Woods is back where he seemingly always is -- in contention.

The long layoff, the sordid stories, the paltry practice ... none of it seems to matter to the No. 1-ranked player in the world.

Woods followed up his surprising opening-round 68 with a solid 2-under-par 70 at Augusta National on Friday to stay in touch with the leaders heading into the weekend at the Masters.

"It feels good. It feels really good," said Woods, who is playing his first tournament since a self-imposed leave from the game due to his acknowledged marital infidelity.

"It feels good to be back and in contention. I usually put myself in contention most of the time most years here, and this year I'm right there.''

Woods, who has won the Masters four times and also has two runner-up finishes, will enter the third round chasing a couple of Englishmen, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter.

Westwood picked up 4 shots in his first seven holes -- and added birdies on two of three holes in Amen Corner -- to move to the top of the leaderboard. However, a double-bogey 6 at the par-4 14th slowed his momentum. He rebounded with a birdie at the par-5 15th to move back to 9 under, but a wayward drive at the 18th led to a bogey and a share of the lead at 8 under.

Poulter birdied both par-5s on the front side (No. 2 and No. 8) and then added birdies at the 12th, 13th and 16th holes before dropping a shot at the 18th to shoot his second straight 68.

Westwood, 36, has missed major playoffs in each of the last two years -- at the 2008 U.S. Open won by Woods and at the 2009 British Open won by Stewart Cink. He is ranked fourth in the world.

Poulter, 34, who was runner-up at the British Open two years ago, won the WGC-Accenture Match Play in February and is ranked seventh in the world.

Woods was solid, if not spectacular, making three birdies and a single bogey.

He putted a little better Friday, needing just 28 putts compared with 31 during the first round and hitting 12 of 18 greens and 11 of 14 fairways.

For a guy who has not played in a tournament since winning the Australian Masters on Nov. 15, it has been pretty solid stuff through 36 holes.

"I felt that I could put myself in contention," said Woods, a winner of 71 PGA Tour events, including 14 major titles. "My practice has been really consistent and progressing with [coach] Hank [Haney]. I didn't have the luxury of playing tournaments coming in here. So I had to be more focused on my practice sessions coming into it and then take more out of them than most people would."

Woods did not begin serious preparations until about five weeks ago, and decided to forgo tournaments such as the CA Championship at Doral and the Arnold Palmer Invitational because he felt he was not ready.

Instead, Woods worked at home, and took separate two-day trips to Augusta National, getting in four practice rounds here before returning on Sunday.

Although the course conditions were not the same, it still gave him the opportunity to play here more than he would have sticking to his normal schedule.

Woods finished tied for third with Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim, K.J. Choi and Ricky Barnes.

"We've got 36 more holes and I'm sure the golf course ... they are not going to make it easy for us," Woods said. "They made it easy on the first day for us and today was certainly much more difficult."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com