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Francesco Molinari of Italy had a chance to join the leaders until he chopped up the par-5 ninth hole for a bogey and finished at 68. Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and Davis Love III were another stroke back at 69. Els was 2 over, one shot behind a group that included Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy.
With scrutiny higher than ever after the worst tournament of his career, Woods settled down after a shaky start and eased speculation that he could miss consecutive cuts for the first time in his career.
A week ago, he had his second-highest round (79) and the worst 36-hole score (153) of his career to miss the cut by eight shots. Then came practice rounds that didn't look much better.
"I've felt like I've done some good work this week, even though reports are I was hitting all over the lot," Woods said. "But I was working on a few things. I was very comfortable with what I was working toward, and I was very excited about what was happening. It was just a matter of doing it in competition. And I did it today."
A few pars saved the day -- one after a hooked tee shot into the trees, another when he fanned a shot to the right into the bunker on No. 4, then made an 8-foot par putt after hitting another bunker.
Nothing looked worse than a 3-wood he popped up on No. 7, barely reaching the fairway and having to hit a 5-wood for his second shot on a par 4. He got up-and-down for par, and two holes later, gave a light but meaningful fist pump when he hit 5-wood to a tucked green on the par-5 ninth to 18 feet for a two-putt birdie.
His round could have been considerably better had he not missed so many birdie chances -- four putts inside 12 feet. Even so, Woods sounded much more optimistic after playing only his seventh round of competition since Nov. 15.
"It takes time to get into the rhythm of competing, and it takes tournaments," he said. "And I haven't had a lot of tournaments under my belt."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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