Woods Moves Out Front at Doral

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2007 WGC CA ChampionshipMIAMI -- The putt was about 10 feet and looked like so many Tiger Woods had faced over the first two days at the Blue Monster. The difference Friday was the ball went in, and it put him back on track for a third straight victory at Doral.
 
The par putt on No. 9 sent him to three consecutive birdies, and Woods closed with the 10-footer on the final hole for a 6-under 66 and a two-shot lead over Rod Pampling in the CA Championship.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is the 36-hole leader at Doral. (WireImage)
'I hit good putts ... but still had not made one yet,' Woods said. 'Then all of a sudden I had this one up here at nine and I poured that one in. I said, 'That's my stroke. Just try and keep this thing going.' And I did.'
 
And just like that, this again looks like his tournament.
 
He was at 7-under 137 and will play the third round Saturday with Pampling, a frequent practice partner at the majors.
 
Ernie Els, who held off Woods five years ago at Doral, also made progress with his putter and had another 70. He was in a large group at 4-under 140 that included Henrik Stenson (73), Charles Howell III (71), Thomas Bjorn (72) and Trevor Immelman (68).
 
The wind was far less severe, and the scoring was about a stroke easier.
 
Woods' 66 was the best round of the tournament, and another example of how strong wind and new greens that are unfamiliar to so many regulars at Doral has affected scoring. A year ago, Woods had a share of the halfway lead at 13 under.
 
Robert Allenby, who shared the first-round lead with Stenson, had a 74 and was in the large group at 3 under.
 
Woods is the two-time defending champion on the course and this tournament, a World Golf Championship that invites top players from the money lists of six major tours and the top 50 in the world.
 
In his final tuneup before the Masters, Woods had reason to be concerned with his putting after taking 32 putts in his opening round of 71. He spent 45 minutes with his caddie, Steve Williams, on the practice green Thursday evening, and finally got the result he wanted.
 
'I told Stevie what I was feeling and he told me what he saw, and we just kind of worked through it and finally got to the position where I could release the blade again,' Woods said.
 
He opened with birdie putts inside 3 feet and was stuck in neutral with a collection of long two-putt pars and simple saves. Then came the par-3 ninth, where he put his ball in the left bunker and blasted out 10 feet by the hole.
 
He made that to stay four shots behind, then found another gear.
 
Woods made an 8-foot birdie on the 10th after hitting into a greenside bunker, holed a 6-foot birdie on the 11th and made a 10-footer on the par-5 12th to surge into a tie for the lead. His final birdie in a bogey-free round came on the 17th, when he hit his tee shot into the right rough, still far enough that he hit wedge into about 6 feet.
 
His final act was the 18th, a scary hole with water down the left side the wind blowing to the right. He bailed out to the right -- way right -- leaving himself an approach through the skinny palms that came up just short. He chipped across the green to 10 feet below the hole, and made the par to give himself a two-shot cushion.
 
Woods took only 26 putts in the second round.
 
His record is intimidating enough -- 26-6 with a 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour -- especially at Doral.
 
But he will be playing with a scrappy Aussie he knows well.
 
Pampling first started showing up at dawn for practice rounds with Woods about three years ago, which Williams arranged.
 
'You just like to see the way he gets around the course,' Pampling said. 'He's pretty open with his information, and you have some fun out there. It's nice to get in amongst the gallery early in the week and just get used to the huge numbers out there.'
 
Pampling also wonders if recent history plays into his favor.
 
Woods opened with a 64 last week at Bay Hill, but the rest of the week was a struggle, particularly the final round. Woods took two double bogeys and a triple bogey in a back-nine 43 that sent him out of the top 20.
 
'We certainly don't rule ourselves out,' Pampling said. 'I don't think he's going to have the weekend he had at Bay Hill, but it's a golf course where you've still got be pretty strong off the tee and play some good shots. I don't think it's going to happen, but it's still there. Maybe it's something that's fresh in his mind that someone gets near, he may actually feel a little bit of pressure for once.'
 
If not from Pampling, there remains plenty of candidates.
 
It's hard to tell what Els is thinking, for he left the course without speaking, holding his daughter's hand. Sergio Garcia had a chance to get into the final group with Woods until a double bogey on the 18th hole sent him to a 70, four shots behind.
 
'I need to go to the range,' Garcia said when he finally emerged from the scoring trailer.
 
Howell stayed in the mix despite two bogeys on the par 5s, violating his own rule of taking advantage on the scoring holes and hanging on for dear life on the others. But he already has a victory and two runner-up finishes this year, and he's back in the mix again.
 
DIVOTS
Vijay Singh, the only two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year, had a 68 and was in the group at 2-under 142. Masters champion Phil Mickelson shot 72 and was at 5 over, not sure what's going on with his game and not appearing to be overly concerned. ... Thomas Bjorn was atop the leaderboard until he had a long wait when he made the turn. He four-putted from 45 feet for double bogey.
 
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