Woods Continues to Shine at Doral

Tiger Woods is on a hot streak at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. The $8.75 million PGA Tour event started Thursday on the TPC Blue Monster Course at Doral in Miami.

After opening with a 6-under 66 for a share of the lead with four others, Woods fired a 65 to reach 13-under 131, two strokes better than Graeme McDowell, who posted a 67. Woods, McDowell, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson and Freddie began the second round tied for the lead.

After putting up nine birdies Thursday, Woods added eight more - against one bogey - in the second round. His total of 17 birdies is the most he's ever totaled over the first 36 holes of a tournament during his remarkable 75-win career.

"I played better today - not initially, there were a couple of bad early holes," Woods said at greenside, referring to opening with three straight pars before reeling off seven birdies over the next 10 holes.

Of his birdie binge, he added, "There's some holes we're able to flatten it out and roll the ball." But he doesn't expect the amenable conditions found the first two days at Doral to last. "If the wind blows, the greens are going to dry out and it's going to be very, very difficult."

Woods was asked if his heightened level of play was similar to his performance when he won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in late January. "I feel like I'm playing well, I'm probably playing better than at Torrey," he noted. "Hopefully, I can hit the ball a little bit better and keep my feel on the greens."

After the opening round, Woods credited his good friend Steve Stricker with a tip that led to him totaling only 23 putts Thursday. Over 36 holes, he's had 22 one-putt greens.

Three strokes behind Woods are a couple of heavyweights, Stricker and Phil Mickelson, who both carded 5-under 67s.

McDowell is playing well and is in position to challenge Woods over the weekend. The 33-year-old Northern Irishman and 2010 U.S. Open champion is the only player in the field to not record a bogey at Doral's daunting Blue Monster course.

Starting his second round on the 10th tee, McDowell said he noted the players chasing him. He promptly birdied his two final holes. "I saw Phil sneaking up the leaderboard there behind me and I said to (his caddie), 'Let's spoil this party tomorrow,' " McDowell told reporters.

"I'm sure they would have liked Tiger and Phil in the last group tomorrow, would have been great for the tournament, but I certainly will enjoy the position of being in the last group and in the mix. That's right where I want to be."

For his part, Mickelson hopes he and Woods can square off again in the final round. "I saw Tiger was playing well and I wanted to make a couple birdies to get in the group with him," Mickelson said.

"It seems since 2007 when we played at Deutsche Bank in Boston, I've been playing some of my best golf when we get paired together. I hope that (Saturday) that I play a good round and so does he, and we get a chance to get paired together in Sunday's final round, because he seems to somehow bring out my best golf."

The leaderboard is star-studded further down, as 2012 Masters champion Watson (69) is in fifth at 9-under 135 with Jacobson (69). Right behind them at 8-under are two major winners, Charl Schwartzel (65) and Keegan Bradley (68), the 2011 Masters' and PGA champions, respectively.

Dustin Johnson (69) is in ninth at 137. John Huh (67), John Senden (69), Peter Hanson (71), Garcia (72), last week's Honda Classic winner - Michael Thompson (69), Zach Johnson (67), Rickie Fowler (69), Mike Hendry (66), Jason Dufner (69), Thaworn Wiratchant (69) and Ian Poulter (70) are tied for 10th at 6-under 138 in the no-cut event featuring the world's top-64 players.

Sharing 21st at 5-under 139 are Hunter Mahan (72), Webb Simpson (67), Charles Howell III (71), George Coetzee (69), Alexander Noren (70) and Scott Jamieson (69).

Tied for 27th at 140 are Jason Day (66), Nick Watney (71) and defending champion Justin Rose (72).

Playing alongside Woods and Luke Donald for the second straight day, No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy had his first under-par outing of the year. The 23-year-old Northern Irishman carded a 3-under 69 and is now at 2-under 142.

In his pervious outing last week at the Honda Classic, McIlroy, a two-time major winner who's been adjusting to his new Nike clubs and some issues with his swing, departed after only eight holes of the second round, citing tooth pain. Prior to that, he didn't make the cut in his season opener in Abu Dhabi and was ousted in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship last month in Arizona.

On Friday, McIlroy carded six birdies and three bogeys. He could have posted a 68 but three-putted the 18th hole from 20 feet.

Woods was impressed with the play of McIlroy. "Rory played all right today," said Woods. "He made some nice swings and holed a few putts. Certainly he's trying to work his way through making some changes in his swing. It's not easy, especially at this level on difficult courses, it's tough.

"But he's put in some time this past weekend, this past week, and you know, from what I can see, it certainly is improving. He still has got a lot of time till Augusta, so he's on the right track."

Meanwhile, Donald struggled. After starting with a 70, the 35-year-old Englishman and erstwhile No. 1 posted a 4-over 76 Friday to fall into a tie for 54th at 146.

For all the scores, visit http://www.worldgolfchampionships.com/cadillac-championship/leaderboard.html.