DORAL, Fla. -- Even at the highest level, golf is maddening. It almost never lets you feel secure, elicits far more pain than glory and leaves even the best of the best experimenting, searching.
Just look at the top of the world rankings.
Rory McIlroy started his week at TPC Blue Monster apologizing for walking off a golf course in midround a week ago, such were the frustrations he was experiencing in his game.
Tiger Woods, who won his 75th PGA Tour title earlier this year, felt troubled enough by his putting that he asked fellow competitor Steve Stricker for some pre-tournament advice. All Stricker did was notice several flaws -- stance, grip, follow-through -- point them out and then set Woods on his way.
McIlroy, ranked No. 1 in the world, shot his first subpar score of the year on Friday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, where No. 2-ranked Woods took the 36-hole lead with an impressive putting performance.
There is still a ways to go for McIlroy, who is fighting swing flaws and trying to find some consistency. He shot 69 and moved up to a tie for 32nd in the 65-player field.
But Woods has proved to be a fast learner. After taking 33 putts during a sloppy final round Sunday at the Honda Classic, he's seemingly making everything at Doral, where he has 22 one-putt greens in 36 holes.
And he owes much of it to Stricker, who got him straightened out on Wednesday.
"He's still not getting a percentage," Woods joked.
Perhaps he should.
Woods has 17 birdies through two rounds, more than he has ever made to start a PGA Tour event. And then there's this: He made all 14 of his attempts from inside 10 feet on Friday.
Stricker, who is 3 strokes back, might wonder what he just did.
"Yes and no," Stricker said. "It's good to see him putting well and playing well. It's good for us, it's good for the game and it's always good when he plays well. Unfortunately we are chasing him, so it's going to be difficult."
Woods is 35-of-45 in converting 36-hole leads on the PGA Tour into victory, 26-of-31 when he has the outright lead. After hitting 14 of 18 greens on Thursday, he hit 15 on Friday, making just one bogey.
By hitting greens, Woods gave himself the opportunities. By making them, he took the lead.
"It feels very similar, if not almost identical, to where I was at Torrey [Pines]," said Woods, referencing his win at the Farmers Insurance Open in January. "By body position, my line, my feel, the way the club is moving and the feels in my hands.
"Hey, we get off from time to time, and Stricks knows my stroke, and he saw a few things. Lo and behold he made a few suggestions, worked through it, and then next thing you know, this is like how I putted at Torrey. And I've made some putts the last few days."
It makes you wonder how it ever gets away.
And yet, that is exactly what McIlroy is dealing with at the moment. Instead of contending for the title, he has to be satisfied with getting a score under par, hitting some drives in the fairway.
"You go through these periods in golf when you just have a tough time and things don't click right away," McIlroy said. "It's understandable. It would be great if it wasn't like that, and it would make the game a lot easier."
McIlroy is feeling better about his game, and yet he trails Woods by 11 strokes. Such is the nature of golf that there could be that kind of disparity.
"He's putted well the last couple of days, which has been a big thing," said McIlroy, who has played four competitive rounds with Woods this year. "But I saw the scoreboard at the end of the day [Thursday]. I didn't realize he's 6 under par. It didn't look like that but he gets it around, he's such a good pro.
"And today he hit it a lot better. He hit a lot of quality iron shots and put the ball in the fairway for the most part and putted really nicely. He looked solid."
All it did, however, is get Woods a 2-shot lead. He'll play the third round with Graeme McDowell, who has plenty of experience in such situations. He held off Woods to win the 2010 U.S. Open and beat him in a playoff at the 2010 Chevron World Challenge. Woods got the best of the Northern Irishman last year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where they played together in the final round and Woods came home with the victory.
Phil Mickelson is another shot back, tied with Stricker, and would love nothing more than to play himself into a Sunday pairing with Woods.
"He seems to somehow bring out my best golf," Mickelson said.
Even Lefty, who last month narrowly missed shooting 59 on his way to winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open, had his doubts coming to Doral. He had taken the past two weeks off, and wasn't sure if his game would emerge.
Stricker, meanwhile, is enjoying semiretirement, playing just his third tournament of the year.
Good luck figuring out what will happen next.