DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Strong off the tee and hitting shots with exquisite control, Tiger Woods seemed like his old self.
He turned in Friday's best score, bogey-free 6-under 66, to get in contention at the Dubai Desert Classic. He was tied for fifth, four strokes behind leader Rory McIlroy after two rounds, and gave himself every reason to believe he can win for the first time in more than a year.
Woods was part of a powerhouse group that included top-ranked Lee Westwood and No. 2 Martin Kaymer. But on this day, Woods played as if he were unquestionably No. 1 again.
"It felt good (Friday). I hit a lot of good shots," said Woods, who likened his game to the way he played at last year's Chevron World Challenge, where he lost in a playoff to U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell.
Woods, the winner of 14 majors, routinely gave himself chances. He finished with six birdies and was at 7-under 137.
McIlroy followed his opening 65 with 68. This course brings out the best in the 21-year-old golfer from Northern Ireland, who earned his only European Tour victory at this tournament two years ago.
A shot behind at 10 under were Sergio Garcia (67) and Thomas Aiken (67), followed by Steve Webster (68) at 8 under.
"I'm just concentrating on myself," McIlroy said. " … As long as I go out and shoot the numbers that I want to, then that's the most important thing."
PGA: Steve Marino is too busy soaking in the California scenery and celebrity-filled atmosphere at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am to get worked up over his four-shot lead going into the weekend.
Marino had his only bogey of the tournament on the par-5 14th but followed with three birdies over the last four holes for 7-under 66 and 141 total.
"This tournament is kind of strange," Marino said. "You play a different course every day. You're playing with amateur partners. It's a little more low key and laid back."
First-round leader D.A. Points struggled at Spyglass Hill and was slipping down the leaderboard until running off four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn. He shot 70 and was four shots out.
Points worried for a moment that playing partner Bill Murray started to feel the pressure.
"Bill was struggling a little (Friday), so he was maybe down on himself," Points said. "We still had a great time."
CHAMPIONS: Jay Don Blake opened with 8-under 64 at the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton to take a one-stroke lead over Tom Lehman in the over-50 circuit's first full-field event.