MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Tiger Woods had a stiff breeze at his back as he stood on the 13th tee, his hand resting on the cover of his driver as he contemplated how to navigate the 354 yards to the green.

With his brawn, Woods could hit driver close to the green, maybe onto the putting surface, for an easy birdie.

He chose to use his brain.

Woods pulled out the 3-iron and hit another ball down the middle of the fairway. It’s a shot the fans have been used to seeing over the first two days of the Australian Masters, where the world’s No. 1 player has opened with rounds of 66-68 to build a three-shot lead.

Why not go for it? The pin was on the front half of the green, and Woods knew it would be a difficult pitch.

“If the pin was in the back part of the green, I would have probably hit driver and gotten it down there, because then you have the entire green to pitch up,” he said.

He hit wedge to about 8 feet and missed the putt. On the same hole, Rod Pampling hit driver to about 40 yards short of the green and pitched the ball through the green and into the back bunker. He had to scramble for par. That was all the evidence Woods needed that he made the right choice.

Such are the holes that make Woods enjoy a track like Kingston Heath, which had 7,059 yards is the shortest he has played all year. He has won at Torrey Pines and Firestone more than any other courses in the world, and both are considered beasts.

Kingston Heath is for managing the game, not mashing the ball.

“I think it’s great,” Woods said. “I’ve certainly always enjoyed playing golf courses where you have to think and plod your way along. As I said earlier, you don’t need a golf course of 7,500 yards for it to be difficult. With some of the angles you have out here, you can hit a lot of drivers and 3-woods and get the ball down there, but there’s a price.

“If you miss the ball on the wrong side, it’s going to run into bushes or bunkers where it’s unplayable,” he said. “If you do lay it back, then you have pretty tough iron shots. There’s plenty of options out there. You just have to pick one and go with it.”

It has been reminiscent of Royal Liverpool, where Woods chose to hit driver only once over 72 holes on his way to victory in the 2006 British Open. And it is not unlike Muirfield Village this year, where the fairways were fast under hot weather, and Woods only occasionally hit driver off the tee and rallied for a four-shot victory.

He has hit driver five times each round at Kingston Heath, only when necessary – either into the wind on a long par 4, or a par 5 where bunkers can’t be reached, or on the ninth when he can take the fairway bunkers out of play.

That’s what he did Friday, and while he missed three birdie putts inside 10 feet and twice had to hole tough putts for par, he doesn’t look as though he’s about to give anyone much help.

Woods was at 10-under 134 and in the final group with Jason Dufner, the unheralded American who shot 67 and was three shots behind along with Greg Chalmers (69) and James Nitties (71) of Australia.

Woods hasn’t been perfect, and didn’t feel as though he hit the ball cleanly in the second round. Even so, he said he has yet to miss a shot in the wrong spot, which would make it difficult to save par.

Kingston Heath began to show a different personality. The course was relatively soft on Thursday, mainly because of the forecast for sunshine throughout the week. It was faster on Friday, the ball bouncing onto the greens instead of spinning back.

“I know it’s going to get drier and drier as we go along,” Woods said. “I’m going to have to hit the ball really well, and on top of that, manage the game well on these greens because they are going to start to get a little more spring to them.”

One of the Australians asked Woods where Kingston Heath would rate if it were in America and received more publicity. He couldn’t answer the question, and not because he shies away from ranking anything.

“It would be hard to get it to stay this dry in America,” he said. “Because in America, they think green is perfect conditions for a golf course. Everyone tries to make the golf courses look like Augusta by soaking it. When you do that, you make it softer, and you make it easier for us. So when you do that, you have to make the golf courses longer.”

Chalmers was asked if Woods was tougher to beat on a course suited for big hitters, or on a course where thinking is required.

The Australian only smiled.

“Can you find any venue that he’s been to that he hasn’t had a great advantage?” Chalmers said. “He’s got power, and he’s got a great mental game and a great short game. We could talk all day about how great he is. He’s diving into a very deep talent pool. Unfortunately, my end is not as deep. But I’m hoping I can find the bottom.”


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