- Associated Press - Friday, March 23, 2012

ORLANDO, Fla. — Even when he was winning with regularity, Tiger Woods rarely made it look this easy at Bay Hill.

He putted for birdie on every hole.

His longest putt for par was on the 18th, when his birdie try caught the right edge of the cup and left him about 3 feet coming back.

If the game looked familiar, so did his position Friday in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.


Woods ran off four straight birdies early in his round, then made back-to-back birdies late in the afternoon for a 7-under 65, giving him a share of the lead with Charlie Wi. It was the first time in 30 months on the PGA Tour that Woods has been atop the leaderboard going into the weekend.

“It was a solid round of golf,” Woods said. “I felt like I actually hit it better yesterday than I did today. I’ve made more putts today, for sure. I felt great over the putter. My speed was good. I left a couple putts dead short, right in the center of the hole. Actually, it really could have been a really low round. A lot of positives today.”

Wi, the 54-hole leader at Pebble Beach this year, rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on his last hole for a 68 to join Woods at 10-under 134.

Former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell had an eagle-par-birdie finish for a 63, while Jason Dufner extended his solid play on the Florida swing with a 69. They were one shot behind at 135.

Woods last had the 36-hole lead in any tour event at the Australian Open in November, and he tied for third. On the PGA Tour, go all the way back to the Tour Championship in September 2009 to find the last time he was atop the leaderboard going into the weekend.

It looks even more ominous at Bay Hill, where Woods is a six-time winner.

“I want to win. Yes, absolutely,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go. It’s not like it’s over right now. We’ve got 36 holes to go.”

Woods at least is in better shape than he was two weeks ago. His future looked as muddled as ever when Woods was taken off the golf course in a cart at Doral because of soreness and swelling in his left Achilles tendon, the same injury that forced him to miss three months and two majors a year ago.

One week later, he was practicing at Augusta National. Now, he’s the player everyone is chasing on the weekend.

“I saw him on television at Doral and didn’t look good there,” said Ernie Els, who played with Woods at Bay Hill, and played with him when Woods shot 62 on the last day of the Honda Classic. “Today he was on, and today was the same as I saw at the Honda — very on.”

Woods only had a couple of nervous moments.

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