• World Challenge

Tiger's driving force

December 7, 2013
Tiger Woods tied his own course record at Sherwood Country Club © AP

There is no major championship lurking around the corner, not even any meaningful golf in his future for about six weeks. A good showing this week for Tiger Woods would be nice, but is certainly not mandatory.

Either way, it isn't going to matter much when he tees it up at Torrey Pines or in Dubai next month. And it certainly will have little bearing when the Masters rolls around in April.

So appreciate Friday's 62 at Sherwood Country Club for what it was: a near-flawless round of golf.

Woods missed just one fairway during the second round of the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge and made a birdie on the hole anyway. He had 10 birdies, no bogeys. He hit all 18 greens in regulation. He needed just 28 putts.

And his 62 matched the course record he shot during the second round of the 2007 tournament here.

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Anything else?

"Yeah, it was good today," Woods said.

In brisk conditions, Woods was five strokes better than the next-best scores of 67 shot by Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter and took a two-shot lead over Zach Johnson through 36 holes of the $3.5 million tournament that he has won five times. On the same course, Hunter Mahan shot 80, Dustin Johnson had 79 and Rory McIlroy scored 77.

Whether it is anything to build on or a sign of things to come for Woods in 2014 is impossible to predict. And given the vagaries of the game, it is perhaps unrealistic. But whenever you have a putt for birdie on every hole, it can't be a bad thing. Woods had just one hole, the 12th, on which he sweated out a par, needing to hole a 10-footer.

"Tiger shot one of the easier 10-unders I've seen in a while there," said McDowell, the defending champion who played with Woods. "I can't think of a shot he missed. It was Tiger-esque. He missed the pins on the side, you're supposed to miss them; ball-flight control was exceptional. Drove the ball really well. Best I've seen him drive it in a while. It was impressive. It was fun to watch."

And Woods didn't see it coming.

This is his first tournament since he tied for third at the Turkish Airlines Open a month ago. Admittedly, Woods didn't spend much time working on his game in the interim, and he figures to put the clubs away again after this week before gearing up again after the first of the year.

"It felt good on the course, but I did not warm up well," he said. "I was not hitting it very good on the range, and it was just one of those things where I thought, well, it's just warm-up. Warm-up is warm-up, that's what it's called, let's go play now.

"I hit it a good tee shot on one, good second shot in there to a kick-in [for birdie], and it still didn't feel very good. But the third hole was a nice shot in there, it was the first swing I think I made that felt really good, and I tried to keep that feeling the rest of the day and I did. I hit a lot of good shots after that."

Yep, he made it look easy, leading to the age-old question of why it can't always be that way.

"If I knew the answer, we'd do it every week, right?" he said.

Graeme McDowell hit an impressive five-under 67 himself - but just couldn't keep up with Tiger Woods © Getty Images

The 62 was one off his best score of the year, a career-low-tying 61 he shot during the second round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. That day, Woods flirted with a 59 but hit just 13 greens in regulation. He went on to win the tournament, his fifth of the year.

Woods said this week he was simply hoping to continue the success he had in Turkey, where he felt he played well enough to win had he putted better.

And perhaps he is onto something with a new shaft in his driver, one he said is heavier and allows him to have a better feel of the club at impact.

Woods' game is dissected more than any other player's, and while so many aspects factor into success or lack thereof, it is no secret that the tee shot has been a considerable source of frustration for him at times.

During the 2013 season, Woods ranked just 49th on the PGA Tour in driving distance at 293.2 yards. This can be attributed in no small part to the fact that he often hits three-woods and five-woods off the tee for accuracy. Even so, he still ranked just 69th in that category, hitting 62.5 percent of the fairways.

All of that tends to affect Woods' ability to dominate the par-fives, always the hallmark of his success. Woods birdied four of the five at Sherwood on Friday.

One day, of course, does not suggest there will be a significant difference going forward. But as the No. 1-ranked player in the world looks to add to his 79 PGA Tour victories (three short of Sam Snead's record) and his 14 major titles (four short of Jack Nicklaus), driving will always be a key for him.

"It was very under control," McDowell said. "It looks like he's giving up a little distance from what he's got inside him. He just hit it down the middle of every fairway. It was just control. He hit it very good. He didn't have that kind of violence with the speed through the ball. It was very smooth. It was a clinic. Like I say, I can't think of a shot he missed."

It was so good that Woods was asked if, perhaps, he didn't have a tinge of regret that April 10, 2014 - the first round of the Masters - wasn't today instead of four months away.

"No," Woods said, laughing. "Not at all. Two more rounds."

That means there are just 36 holes left in Woods' year, and he's looking forward to the break before he is scheduled to play again in late January.

But it doesn't hurt to take a few good swing thoughts into the brief off-season. It's certainly better than the alternative.

This article originally appeared on ESPN.com
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