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He ran off four straight birdies on the front nine to quickly get into the mix, and then couldn’t decide how to play his tee shot on the 10th. It didn’t help that earlier in the round, he looked over at adjacent first tee and saw Nick Watney — affectionately known as “Rube” — pipe his tee shot out-of-bounds to the right.

“I got over there and for some reason I’m thinking, ‘You know, I probably really shouldn’t hit this driver; I’ll take something off of it, and just hit a little softy out there.’ And bailed on it, because I didn’t want to hit it right out-of-bounds,” Woods said. “And I chalked that up to just not listening to my instincts of hitting a 3-iron down there or just chipping a 5-wood — or not watching Ruby hit that shot.”

Woods was lucky. The snap hook bounced off a net fence protecting the houses, and he had just enough room to play to the middle of the 10th green and walk away with par.

He also was disgusted with his approach to the par-5 16th, turning in anger and swiping at the ground. It wasn’t a great shot, but it was dry, catching the left side of the green 50 feet away and setting up a two-putt birdie.

Woods also had a two-putt birdie at the par-5 sixth. He made birdies on the other par 5s with his wedge game. Over two rounds, he has had such improved control of his play that he hit 19 consecutive greens in regulation at one point. That streak ended on the 13th hole Friday, when he two-putted for par from on the fringe.

Some of that is familiarity.

“I’ve had a few places where I’ve felt comfortable and I’ve played well, and this is one of them,” Woods said. “For some reason, I just understand how to play it.”

And some of that is becoming more confident with his swing, especially how far he is hitting the ball. Woods said he was not hitting his irons as well before going to work with Sean Foley, and a straighter, tighter ball flight has led to more distance — and more adjustments.

He felt as though he hit the ball better on Thursday in a round of 69, although he didn’t have nearly as many birdie chances.

“My bad days are not as bad as they used to be,” Woods said.

It was the fifth time Woods had had at least a share of the 36-hole lead at Bay Hill, and he has failed to win only once from that position. Woods served up several reminders that the tournament is only halfway over, along with gentle rebukes that it hasn’t been that long that he’s been in the hunt.

He was tied for the 54-hole lead at Abu Dhabi, finishing third behind Robert Rock. Woods played well at the Australian Open until a poor third round. As for winning, he counts that birdie-birdie finish to win the Chevron World Challenge, which counted toward the world ranking even though it featured an 18-man field from the top 50 in the world.

“So it really has not been as long as people might think it has been,” Woods said. “I’m comfortable up there, and I feel like I’m playing well. We’ve still got a long way to go. We still have 36 holes to go. Still need to continue doing what I’m doing out there, just kind of plodding my way along.”

Wi, who shared the 18-hole lead with Dufner, birdied four of his last six holes to catch up to Woods. From the right rough on the ninth hole, he hammered out a shot to 25 feet below the cup for one last birdie.

Wi and Woods grew up in southern California and have known each other since their junior days, though Wi is four years older.

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