Tiger Woods shoots 2-under 70

Updated: May 31, 2012, 10:40 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Coming off his worst three-tournament stretch as a pro, Tiger Woods returned to the type of golf Thursday that typically has led to good performances in his career.

Woods birdied three of the par-5s at Muirfield Village Golf Club, made several good par saves when he missed greens, and overcame a double bogey at his ninth hole to shoot 2-under-par 70 at the Memorial Tournament, where he trailed leader Scott Stallings by 4 shots.

"I haven't played the par-5s particularly well the last few tournaments and today was a good example; I played them great," said Woods, who tied for 40th at the Masters, missed the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship and tied for 40th at The Players Championship in his last three starts -- the first time he failed to finish better than 40th in three consecutive tournaments.

"The one on [No.] 11 should have been a birdie as well. I hit two really nice shots in there," he said. "I feel very pleased with the way I hit the golf ball all day, and it was nice to actually play the par-5s under par for a change."

Rory McIlroy, who is coming off consecutive missed cuts for the first time in his career, rebounded from a quadruple-bogey 7 on his third hole to shoot 1-under 71, just five back and tied with world No. 1 Luke Donald. McIlroy, who started on the back nine one group in front of Woods, played his first nine in 39, then rebounded with a 32 that included two birdies and an eagle.

"It's nice to be under par and it's nice to be not too far away from the lead," McIlroy said. "I see enough good shots out there to give me encouragement. There's still a few that I don't like, but as long as the good ones are in there, then you see the positives."

Stallings had nine one-putt greens and chipped in for eagle on the par-5 seventh. He also made one of only four birdies on the 18th hole.

Spencer Levin holed a 25-foot eagle on the seventh hole and made birdie on the eighth until dropping a shot on his final hole to join Erik Compton one shot behind at 67.

Compton considers the Memorial a special week no matter how he plays, knowing his second heart transplant came from a donor in Ohio.

Defending champion Steve Stricker bogeyed his last three holes for a 73. Donald, back to No. 1 after winning at Wentworth, felt like he shot much higher. Thanks to his superb short game, particularly three putts to save par from bunkers, he managed a 71.

Phil Mickelson shot a 79, then withdrew saying he was fatigued and needed rest before the U.S. Open.

Bubba Watson made just his second start since winning the Masters in April and opened with a 75.

Woods, who has won the Memorial four times, the last in 2009, hit nine of 14 fairways, 12 of 18 greens and needed 28 putts. Four times, he holed putts from outside of 5 feet to save pars. His longest putt was a 13-footer at the 17th for a birdie.

"I thought he played really well," said Fred Couples, the U.S. Presidents Cup captain, who played with Woods along with Bill Haas. "Obviously for me to be paired with him is great. I won't be playing with him too many more times in my life. He played a really solid round of golf.

"He is such a good 6-iron, 7-iron, 8-iron player, that if he drives it well he's going to shoot what he did today. And if anything really went well, he would have been 5 or 6 under. He lipped out a couple of putts. He missed a couple of other ones that could have got the round really flying."

The only dropped shots came at the par-4 18th, Woods' ninth of the day, where he missed the green from a fairway bunker, then chunked his third into a greenside bunker. He was unable to get up and down for bogey.

But he made those two birdies on the front-side par-5s along with seven pars to get into contention.

Woods

The par-5s have been a particular sore spot of late. After playing them in 12 under at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he won his 72nd PGA Tour title, Woods has failed to take advantage of the scoring holes he so routinely dominated.

He was horrible at the Masters, playing a combined 16 par-5s in 1-under par. At the Wells Fargo, he was just 2 for 8 in missing the cut. Three weeks ago at The Players, Woods birdied 7 of the 16 par-5s.

Woods ranks just 37th on the PGA Tour among the par-5 birdie leaders, a stat he used to routinely lead or, at worst, be among the top five.

"I didn't do anything great and I didn't do anything poorly," he said. "I was just very consistent. And I think with the golf course being the way it is set up, you just have to be that way. You have to drive the ball well, you have to position it on these greens, and you're going to have to make some tough putts.

"Over the next three days, hopefully I can play as well as I did today."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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