(Reuters) - An upbeat Tiger Woods matched his lowest score of the year when he fired a five-under-par 65 to move into contention just four strokes off the second-round lead at the Quicken Loans National outside Washington on Friday.
The 14-times major champion set the tone for a storming round when his 25-foot birdie putt on the first hole found the dead center of the cup on a warm and calm morning at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in Maryland.
In the American’s 11th tournament of the year on his comeback from spinal fusion surgery, Woods’ game remains a work in progress but he issued what might be construed as his most ominous warning yet.
“As the year’s progressed, I think I’m not that far away from putting it together where I can win,” he said after posting a five-under 135 halfway total that left him in a tie for 11th.
Americans Beau Hossler (66), Ryan Armour (65) and Brian Gay (64) share the lead on nine-under, one stroke ahead of compatriot Billy Horschel and Italy’s Francesco Molinari.
Woods has shown glimpses of his old magic this year, most notably at the Players Championship in May, where he shot 65 on a par-72 course.
But after missing the cut at the U.S. Open a fortnight ago, he switched to a so-called “mallet” putter this week, which he says allows him to make a nice swing at the ball.
“It’s a good feeling for me, just go ahead and trust it’s going to swing,” the 42-year-old said.
“I don’t like blocking putts. I like feeling that toe move and cover that ball and it felt good today.
“Yesterday (Thursday) I hit a lot of good putts. They just didn’t go in (even though I) started them on my line with the right pace.
“Today I did that and a lot of them fell.”
The solid putting was not confined to just his first hole, the par-five 10th. He also banged in two more birdies from nearly 20 feet before suffering a hiccup at the 17th, where he three-putted.
However, he rebounded by pitching in from 80 feet for birdie at the next, even reading the break perfectly as his ball curled into the cup as the large gallery erupted.
Then, at the par-five second, he hit what he said was his best shot of the day.
“That three-wood, I smoked it 280 (yards), a nice high cut off a downhill lie, not exactly an easy shot to hit but I pulled it off,” he said, displaying just a trace of his old cockiness.
Not done yet, Woods slammed in a 40-footer for birdie at the next, his ball still motoring as it hit the hole and disappeared.
He will need another strong round on Saturday to catch the leaders as Hossler, in just his 35th start on the PGA Tour, continued his recent strong form to join the more-experienced Armour and Gay at the top of the leaderboard.
The 23-year-old has not missed a cut since March and has had a couple of runner-up finishes during the stretch, including at the Travelers Championship last Sunday.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Ed Osmond