Tiger healthy, his putter not so much

Tiger Woods looks over a birdie putt on Tiger Woods looks over a birdie putt on the 12th hole during the second round of the Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. (Aug. 5, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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AKRON, Ohio -- Other guys would be satisfied just to be here, playing in an exclusive tournament after having missed nearly three months to an injury. To that, Tiger Woods said, "I'm not other guys."

So he is not in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational for exhibition purposes. Even though his putting stroke still is spotty, even though he shot 1-over-par 71 on Friday and is tied for 36th, he insisted he still is shooting for the trophy.

"Why show up at a tournament if you're not there to win? There's no reason to come," said Woods, who is seven shots behind the leaders, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Ryan Moore and Adam Scott.

The thing is, Woods has not won a tournament since 2009. And he still must prove that he again can be a cut ahead of all those other guys on tour.

"I never write Tiger off. I mean, he has proved almost every critic wrong every time. If they say he can't do it, he does it," said Scott, who shot par 70 Friday with Woods' former caddie, Steve Williams, on his bag. "What we saw from 1999 onwards, for seven or nine years, it's hard to believe that it'll happen again. But he's the same guy. He can do it. For guys who didn't see it, it's hard to explain how good he really was playing, especially in the early 2000s."

Woods repeated Friday what he said Thursday: He is excited and encouraged with the way he is hitting the ball. He is more than upbeat about finally being pain-free. "You have no idea," said Woods, who is wearing sneaker-style Nike golf shoes.

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British Open champion and Woods pal Darren Clarke, who played with Woods for a second consecutive day, said, "He's playing a lot better again, an awful lot better. It's good to see."

Still, Woods has work to do with that Scotty Cameron putter. He did sink a solid five-footer for birdie on No. 17. He drained a 21-footer for birdie on No. 7. But for him to win tournaments again, he must avoid what he did on No. 14: miss a two-footer for par.

Instead of shouting or cursing, he just took a walk on the green to collect his thoughts. Then he nearly missed another short one on No. 8.

"Today was not very good," he said of his putting. "The path wasn't very good going back. It was underneath the path and it was under the plane, and it was just not very good."

That was technical talk. He was more direct later when he said, "Got to go work on that a little bit . . . I didn't make as many putts today, but I'm close to putting it together."

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Whether he can be as dominant as he was 10 years ago is debatable. Scott pointed out that improved technology has leveled the playing field. There also are more talented, aggressive young players, such as Fowler, who shot 64 Friday, and Bradley, who shot 65.

Scott said: "Until someone is that much better, then it's wide open, really. That's what I feel like. This is an opportunity for everyone."

Even to the young pros, though, Woods is more than just another guy. "When he gets it back and he's up at the leader board, I'm sure he'll have the same impact," said Bradley, 25. "I know when I look at him, he's still Tiger Woods to me."

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