Tiger Woods's string of good play continued Thursday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, as he posted a four-under 68 that leaves him four shots back of Henrik Stenson's eight-under 64. It's Woods fifth straight round under par and puts him in good position to contend at a course he absolutely loves—Woods has won this event eight times, most recently in 2013.
After teeing off on the 10th tee, Woods made his first birdie of the day on the par-5 12th then backed it up with another on 13. After receiving a great break off a wayward drive at the par-5 16th, he hit a short-iron to the middle of the green and two putted to get to -3. Two routine pars at 17 and 18 put the finishing touches on a front-nine 33, a performance good enough to make him the favorite at the Masters (seriously).
The round hit a serious road bump on the second hole—Woods missed way right with a three wood and the ball wrapped up in an out of bounds fence. Woods had to re-tee and had to make a tricky four-footer for double bogey, but he'd get it back with a birdie at the par-5 fourth and another at the par-5 sixth.
The highlight of the round came on the seventh hole, when Woods drained a 71-foot putt to get to -4. He'd make two more pars to get in the clubhouse with a four-under 68.
Here's some analysis of his round.
Taking care of business on the par 5's
While the state of Tiger's game during this comeback—especially his short game—has been a pleasant surprise, Woods hasn't played the par-5's as well as he's accustomed to. In 14 official rounds on Tour, Tiger's scoring average on the par-5's (4.78) is t-179th on tour. For a guy hitting it as far as he is right now, that should be much better.
Tiger finally took care of business on the par-5's Thursday. In fact, he birdied all four of them. That's a great sign, as Augusta is one of the few major courses with four par-5's, including two of the world's most famous ones at 13 and 15.
Struggles off the tee continue
Tiger was quite accurate using a driving-iron tee ball at the Honda and Valspar—it's not quite the stinger of old, but it's close—but often times struggled with the driver and three wood. On Thursday at Bay Hill, Tiger had some huge misses to both sides with both of those clubs, one of which (fore right on 3) kept this round from being a really low one. His rhythm with the longest clubs in his bag appears to be slightly faster than the controlled tempo he's hitting his irons with. He was able to recover the majority of the time, but accuracy with the driver appears to be the one area of his game that needs work. Then again, Woods was erratic with the lumber even at his peak.
Short game is world-class
In Tiger's last comeback attempt, the slightly morose one that lasted just three events, two things stood out as particularly worrying. The first was Tiger's lack of speed and overall hesitance to attack tee shots and balls in the rough. The second was his short game, which was a far cry from what it used to be.
Woods's chipping and putting has been really good since his comeback and that continued on Thursday. He did not miss a putt inside ten feet and drained one from 71-feet, but the most impressive shot came at the 6th. He hit a perfect drive over the water to set himself up with a long-iron second into the par-5 but caught a mudball and wound up short and right, facing a 35 yard pitch over a bunker to a tucked pin. Woods hit a high spinning pitch that somehow stopped three feet under the hole and made the putt. Vintage stuff.