Commentary

Spectacular and awful round for Tiger

Updated: March 22, 2013, 8:55 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The fans cheered, yelled and pleaded as Tiger Woods walked over a player bridge, into the Bay Hill parking lot and toward his waiting car, a long day on a course he has all but owned seemingly wasted.

When Woods is at his best, his game is beautifully boring, a mixture of solid shots, course management and timely putting. You look up, and Woods is a few more strokes under par, stalking contention.

But Friday brought the kind of round that is rare for Woods, a combination of spectacular and awful, and a rather stunning finish of three straight bogeys that made that walk on the rain-soaked concrete all the more frustrating.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesTiger Woods' putting game was looking good, except for some puzzling issues with the short ones.

One moment, Woods was on the verge of perhaps pulling into a share of the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The next, he was changing shoes with the trunk open, wondering what just happened.

Welcome to golf, even for Woods, a seven-time winner of this tournament.

"Yeah, it's just the way it goes,'' Woods said after a 2-under-par 70 left him 4 shots behind co-leaders Justin Rose and Bill Haas and in a tie for seventh. "[No.] 16 was unfortunate, 17 I made a bad swing, and 18 I made a bad swing.

"All three holes I hit beautiful putts [that] I thought I made, but they're not realistic putts. They're outside that range, so I need to do a better job like I did most of the day hitting it in stiff and making those putts.''

If Woods is going to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the eighth time -- and in the process take over the No. 1 ranking from Rory McIlroy -- he is going to have to clean up a few problem areas that crept into his game over the first two rounds.

On Thursday, he made three bogeys, twice when failing to get up and down from what he said were relatively simple bunker shots. On Friday, he missed a 2-footer for birdie at the second and a 3-footer at the 12th and yet made a birdie at the first, an eagle at the sixth -- after hitting a 213-yard 5-iron to 6 feet -- and two more birdies at the 11th and 13th.

Despite missing those short putts, he was 5 under par and was 1 shot behind Rose heading to the par-5 16th, one of the easiest holes on the PGA Tour. Woods eagled it on Thursday. On Friday, he hit a 298-yard drive into a fairway bunker, from where he lost his footing and knocked his approach into the water.

Instead of an easy birdie, there was a bogey. And there were two more at the 17th and 18th -- holes he bogeyed the first day as well.

"It was a 4-iron and the sand is so puffy in there that I couldn't get down in the bottom, and I didn't think it would be that bad,'' Woods said of his water ball at the 16th. "I thought I could be flat-footed and be OK, and push with my legs. But as soon as I pushed off, it slipped.''

And suddenly there was this poor ending to an otherwise very good round.

"He's normally a fast finisher, and you can expect him to probably finish fast on the weekend,'' said Rose, who played with Woods the first two rounds. "Absolutely he did a lot of hard work today. He actually played really well. I thought he was probably a couple of shots away from shooting 64 at times.

"I'm sure he was very disappointed, because he actually played some great golf today.''

The short putting was particularly puzzling. Woods had the putting week of his life at Doral, where he needed just 100 over 72 holes, a career best on the PGA Tour as he notched his 76th victory. He putted nicely on Thursday, needing just 28. It was another 28 on Friday, but it was an odd 28. The short ones failed to fall; the longer ones did. He made four putts beyond 10 feet.

"The two short ones I missed, I blocked them both,'' Woods said, meaning he pushed them to the right. "They're both left-to-righters and the one on No. 2. ... I tried to blister it and just ram it in there, and I actually blocked it on top of that. Bad combo there. The one at 12, again, it was a little left-to-righter, and I blocked that one. That one was just a poor putt.''

Asked if it was the same thing he struggled with prior to Doral, where he famously got a putting lesson from Steve Stricker, Woods said, "No, before that it was pulls, so it would have been nice to pull those two putts, the green would have snagged it, and it would have gone back in.''

Woods stressed that he is just 4 back of the lead, and typically in these situations, he focuses on the positives. It is unlike Woods to dwell on the mistakes of Friday, other than to try to correct them.

Rose certainly expects Woods to get over whatever it was that held him back.

"There is no doubt, you always sense his presence,'' he said. "It's hard not to do, obviously. His rounds are covered, left, right and center. You can't avoid it sometimes. But when you're playing with him, you can almost guarantee that he'll be in the mix on Sunday at some point.

"If you keep your nose in front of him, you'll probably sign for that right now and take your chances. But at the end of the day, you've got only to look at the golf course. He's not looking around at what everyone else is doing, and that tells you that's the way the game has to be played. You've got to have your head down, focusing, one shot at a time and executing as best you can. That is the way to get it done.''

For Woods, he didn't get it done this time, a strange day for sure.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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