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Tiger Woods off to strong start at Bridgestone Invitational with 2-under 68
Only this time, it has more to do with the weather than bad golf.
Woods finished toward the bottom of the pack last year at the Bridgestone Invitational, which those around him believe was the low point in his worst season. There has been a noticeable improvement over the opening two rounds at Firestone, even if it doesn't look all that great compared with everyone else.
There were 17 rounds at 67 or better on the first day. Woods wasn't among them.
There were 45 rounds at par or better in the second round Friday, and again Woods was left behind.
That puts him in the middle of the pack, just one of the guys, even though he defiantly said he was "not other guys" when someone suggested to him that others would be expecting to win a tournament having not played in three months.
Instead, there is a long list of stars going into the weekend.
Rickie Fowler, winless in his 21 months on the PGA Tour, had eight birdies and an eagle ' he holed out with a wedge from the third fairway ' and had to settle for a 6-under 64 that left him in a four-way tie for the lead at this World Golf Championship.
He was joined by Ryan Moore, who posted his second straight 66 without getting much notice, and PGA Tour rookie Keegan Bradley, who used a tip from Phil Mickelson on his way to a 65.
And then there was Adam Scott, who followed his opening 62 with a hard-earned 70. It didn't feel like a great round, but it was enough for Scott to be atop the leaderboard going into the weekend.
"The last time I shot 62 was probably a long time ago, so am I going to expect to do it two days in a row?" Scott said. "I don't think so. But it's a hard golf course, and if you're just a little off, you get quite severely penalized. There's no real secret that it's not easy to shoot a couple of 62s."
Nor is it all that easy to be at 8-under 132, which is what the leaders posted. It was the lowest 36-hole score at Firestone since Woods reached 9 under going into the weekend in 2006.
Woods offered promise of a speedy return to normal when he spoke of how far he was hitting the ball when he shot 68 in the first round. The problem Friday was more with the short game, whether it was that shocking, 2-foot par putt he missed at the 14th or the pedestrian pitch he had at the fourth hole that led to another bogey.
"I didn't putt as well as I did yesterday, and consequently, I just never got the round going," he said.
Everyone else around him was taking off.
Fowler was all over the place. He made only five pars, and kept his gallery guessing the rest of the time. There were three straight birdies, and a wedge he holed from 110 yards for eagle on No. 3. He played his final six holes by making three bogeys and three birdies.
"A lot of good things came out of today," Fowler said. "Building some confidence going into the weekend."
No one appeared to have more fun than Bradley, the nephew of LPGA Hall of Fame player Pat Bradley and a winner this year at the Byron Nelson Championship. With big crowds lingering even after Woods left the course, he could hear plenty of cheers for birdies all around him, and even some for himself as he worked his way to the top of the leaderboard.
"I had Luke Donald behind me, Phil Mickelson a few groups behind me," Bradley said. "I mean, it's something that I dream about since I was 2 years old. It's kind of happening in front of my eyes, which is a weird feeling to describe. But it's spectacular. I just can't express how much fun I'm having out there."
His biggest birdie came at No. 3, even though it was only a 12-foot putt.
Bradley played a money game with Mickelson on Wednesday, in which Mickelson serves as a mentor until the final holes when the four-time major champion cares only about getting into Bradley's pocket. Mickelson pointed to a hole location that can be tricky. The putt looks as if it should break right, but it actually moves left.
"And sure enough, I had this exact putt he brought me over to," Bradley said. "I wanted to make it so bad so I could go back and tell him later tonight."
Mickelson was among those who couldn't keep up with 31 guys who broke par in the second round.
He holed out from the 11th fairway for eagle, but followed that with a double bogey on the par-3 12th, and finished with a pair of bogeys for a 73 that put him at even par, eight shots behind.
Geoff Ogilvy had a tough time, as well. The former U.S. Open champion was two shots out of the lead and playing the easiest hole at Firestone, the par-5 second, when he four-putted from 35 feet for double bogey, and finished an annoying round with back-to-back bogeys that dropped him back to a 70 and put him at 2-under 138.
Lee Westwood, taking mental help from Bob Rotella and putting tips from Dave Stockton, was right in the thick of it until dropping four shots on the last six holes for a 71 that also put him at 138.
Twenty players were separated by only four shots going into the final two rounds, a group that includes U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, Steve Stricker, Nick Watney and Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, who was three shots behind.
The tee times were pushed forward, starting at 7 a.m. with Woods in the group with Ian Poulter and Bubba Watson. Saturday should go a long way in determining just who's in control of this final event before the PGA Championship next week in Atlanta.