ORLANDO — Martin Laird loves when he can smash a driver, and that carried him a long way Friday at Bay Hill.
Laird reached three of the par 5s in two shots, converted one of them into an eagle and wound up with 7-under 65 for a one-shot lead over K.J. Choi (64) and first-round leader Spencer Levin (70) in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Laird was at 9-under 135.
"I'm driving the ball really well and putting really well," Laird said. "Ask any pro, that's a pretty good combination to have, especially on a golf course this long where you have to drive the ball in the fairway."
Tiger Woods is still in the game, too.
Woods raised his arm on the ninth green as his 20-foot birdie putt rolled in for 4-under 68, leaving him six shots behind going into the weekend.
He said he could have gone lower. "Unfortunately, I left a lot of putts dead-center short," he said. "There were about five putts that were dead center. It could have been a pretty special round."
A six-time champion at Bay Hill, Woods is in the best position he has been in all year heading into the weekend. And this is his last tournament before next month's Masters.
"We are trying to build towards the first major, and that's kind of how my game is," Woods said. "It's building, and it's coming."
Choi put in three hybrids to go with his driver and two fairway metals, all to get ready for the Masters. It paid dividends; his 64 was the tournament's best round. Levin didn't play his best in the morning, but his putting carried him.
The cut was at 4-over 148, the highest in six years at Bay Hill. Among those making the cut were Sam Saunders, Palmer's grandson.
LPGA: Jiyai Shin shot bogey-free 9-under 64, birdieing nine of the first 14 holes, for a four-stroke lead in the rain-delayed Kia Classic at Industry, Calif. She was at 12-under 134. Seventy-two players, all the afternoon starters, were unable to finish the round because of darkness after rain delayed the start. That group included Seminole's Brittany Lincicome, who was 2 over after 13 holes.
Langer out of outback: Bernhard Langer won't be able to defend his title at next month's Champions Tour Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz after having surgery Wednesday on his left thumb. He will be out two months; the two-time Masters champion also will miss the year's first major on the PGA Tour at Augusta. Langer, 53, said the injury occurred while biking in South Florida last fall. He was at an intersection when, with his bike moving, he reached out to push the button on the traffic signal. "I felt a sharp pain pushing the button," Langer said. The ligament damage wasn't discovered until more than six weeks later, after he won the Ace Group Classic for his 14th title on the Champions Tour.