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No pain for Woods, not much gain in putting

Competing for the first time since he withdrew from Doral, Woods pieced together a 3-under 69 and was three shots behind Jason Dufner and Charlie Wi.

Tiger Woods hits out of a green-side bunker on the first hole during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Tiger Woods hits out of a green-side bunker on the first hole during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Image: (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

TIGER WOODS ISN’T about to complain about a boring day at work.

There really wasn’t much for him to dissect yesterday at Bay Hill. Competing for the first time since he withdrew from Doral with tightness in his left achilles tendon, Woods pieced together a 3-under 69 and was three shots behind Jason Dufner and Charlie Wi.

Woods drove the ball well. He was OK with his irons (only two of them were within 15 feet of the flag, at least on the par 3s and par 4s). He three-putted twice, once for bogey and the other time for par. And his left leg, the center of so much attention, didn’t bother him.

“Not in my mind at all,” said Woods, a six-time winner at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. “I’m just out there playing. I’m feeling good. I’ve been getting treatment. Everything’s good. No swelling. If I can just keep it that way, everything will be great.”

For the most part, it was a quiet start all around for Bay Hill.

The excitement came from Anthony Kim, who drilled a five-iron into the cup for a hole-in-one on the 17th, part of a torrid stretch on the back nine in which he shot 32 despite making two bogeys. Ryan Moore also made an ace, his on the seventh hole.

Phil Mickelson shot 73, and it wasn’t the stock variety. There was the 15th, when his shot from a fairway bunker caromed off a Magnolia tree and he still managed a par. He went out-of-bounds on the 18th hole for double bogey, into the water on the third hole for double bogey and still figured he was a good round away from being right in the hunt. And he was right.

Nick Watney shot a 68 and was thrilled to see a few putts go in.

“I putted really well and it’s nice to do that because that’s been my achilles this year,” Watney said.

Woods’ achilles also used to be his putting, until it actually became his achilles tendon.

This is Woods’ last tournament before the Masters, where he has not won since 2005. It’s part of eight straight days of golf, which began Sunday with a scouting trip to Augusta National, and there has been concern that his Achilles tendon might flare up again. Woods said he has no way of knowing if it will tighten up on him as it did at Doral, though he said he has dealt with tightness before and it didn’t linger.

Whatever the case, he wasn’t worried about it on a sunny Thursday morning in his former town.

“I didn’t really do anything great today,” said Woods, who had only two approach shots inside 15 feet on the par 3s and par 4s. “I was just solid all day. I drove the ball well, hit my irons decent and putted all right. It’s just one of those days where not a lot was going on.”

It still was meaningful for the co-leaders, for different reasons. Both are searching for their first PGA Tour victory, and both have had close calls this year. Wi had a three-shot lead going into the final round at Pebble Beach, but then he four-putted for double bogey and wound up a forgotten runner-up to Mickelson.

Dufner shared the lead last week at Innisbrook going into the last round and couldn’t make the momentum-saving putts. He wound up in a tie for 10th, three shots out of the lead.

But with his eagle on the 16th hole, a 4-iron into a left-to-right wind — the direction that can give him fits — he joined Wi atop the leaderboard and continued his solid play. This was the fourth time on the Florida swing that Dufner has been at least tied for the lead after the completion of a round. Trouble is, none of those rounds has been on a Sunday.

He also made his share of putts, mostly because he felt better about where they were going. Dufner realized that he was aiming too far to the right, which instinctively didn’t feel right and made him hook some of those putts to the left.

Dufner discovered this the third week of the season, and he’s had his caddie line him up on certain putts. But after missing a 5-foot putt for the only bogey of his round, he changed directions.

Arnold Palmer walks near the 16th tee. (Pic: AP Photo/John Raoux)

“I told him, ‘No more lining up until further notice.’ And I actually putted better on the back,” Dufner said. “Maybe that’s part of the trust; I’ve got to trust myself. I’m going to trust the practice I’ve been putting in working on my aim and just go with it.”

He paused and came to another conclusion.

“Actually, I think I had five one-putts on the back,” he said.

The number associated with Wi — at least for the moment — is 13. Last week at the Transitions Championship was more comedy than tragedy. He already was toward the bottom of the leaderboard in the final round when he tried to hit a shot through a gap in the trees, and three times saw his ball hit the tree and carom out of bounds onto the practice range. He wound up with a 13 and shot 78, and didn’t give it much thought except when asked about it.

“That was just a blip on the radar screen,” Wi said. “Actually, I figured I should have gone for some tour record so at least I could be remembered.”

He doesn’t have many good memories of Bay Hill — he withdrew one year, missed the cut two other times and tied for 24th last year, with a 66 in the third round. So at least he’s making progress.

Then again, so is Woods. The opening round was about getting through it without breaking anything, and apparently not breaking a sweat. Now it’s about moving up the leaderboard going into the weekend.

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