Tiger Woods shows some vintage play, four back after second round at Honda

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The noise echoed off the hospitality suites as Tiger Woods emerged from a tunnel and onto the 17th tee at PGA National late Friday afternoon, a sun-baked gallery of thousands in full throat.

They were roaring for Woods, who was faced with the unenviable task of hitting one of the toughest tee shots on the course, a 185-yard approach over a pond into a howling wind.

A total of 36 balls found the water there Friday, but Woods carved a 5-iron up into the air and watched it fade toward the hole, stopping 10 feet away. When he rolled in the birdie putt -- one of just nine there all day -- the screaming onlookers let loose.

It was vintage Tiger, and while there are still plenty of obstacles for him to overcome in his comeback from spinal fusion surgery, Friday's effort in the second round of the Honda Classic was a promising sign.

A 1-over-par 71 left him just four strokes back of leaders Luke List and Jamie Lovemark on a day when just 13 players broke par in difficult conditions. Only 10 players are under par through 36 holes.

"I feel like I'm right there,'' Woods said after finishing at 141, 1 over par and in a tie for 14th. "I'm right where I can win a golf tournament. You know, four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It's wide open.''

While Woods talking about winning just eight rounds -- 12 if you count the December exhibition in the Bahamas -- into his comeback might seem a bit bold, the 14-time major champion has plenty of reasons to be pleased.

He improved his driving after missing the cut a week ago at the Genesis Open and grinded out a lot of pars in trying conditions.

Woods hit 8 of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens during the second round and needed 28 putts. After getting within two shots of the lead with a birdie at the ninth hole, Woods missed good opportunities at the 10th and 12th before hitting his tee shot in the water at the par-3 15th.

The 15th, 16th and 17th holes, a three-hole stretch known as "The Bear Trap'' in honor of Jack Nicklaus, who redesigned the course, are fraught with trouble, especially when it's windy. The ball in the water at 15 led to a double-bogey, and when Woods three-putted the par-4 16th for a bogey to fall back to 2 over, he was standing on some shaky ground.

Woods watched Brandt Snedeker nail a 5-iron to a few feet at the 17th, but then the wind backed off. Getting some 15,000 people to quiet down proved nearly impossible as Woods tried to figure out what to do.

"I thought 5 [iron] is too much, but I can't get 6 there,'' Woods said. "So that's one of the reasons why I started that thing pretty far left and hit a pretty big cut in there, because I had just too much stick. Worked out great. I hit it right below the hole and hit a good putt.''

It was a big moment because of No. 17's difficulty. It ranked as the hardest hole of the day, playing to an average of 3.74. In addition to the 36 tee shots that found the water, only 42 players hit the green out of 141. There were eight scores of triple bogey or worse, with the hole playing a total of 104 over par.

"I can't believe it's his third start,'' said Snedeker, who played with Woods during the first two rounds and also the third round at Torrey Pines last month. "I thought it was more than that. Third start with a chance to win? This is a perfect golf course for him. This is a golf course where you've got to hit greens. Driver is not a huge weapon here because the fairways are so fast. It plays into his strengths -- great iron play, sharp short game.''

Woods wasn't necessarily admitting it was the perfect course for him.

"Maybe I ought to have been a little smarter to pick some easier venues,'' he said.

But being able to hit more 2-irons and 3-woods off tees while he works out some issues with his driver is a help.

He has made just six birdies through two rounds and has two double-bogeys on his scorecard, but he has really played just two bad holes out of 36.

"I'm just being very steady,'' he said. "I'm trying to make a lot of pars, maybe sprinkle in a birdie here or there. It's going to come down to a pretty bunched leaderboard Sunday. We all know that. It's going to be jam-packed. Anyone can win this tournament.''