Late Surge Has Woods 1 Shot Back
Saturday, June 14, 2008
SAN DIEGO, June 13 -- With a majestic eagle on his fourth hole of the day and a stunning run of four birdies on the first five holes of his second nine Friday, Tiger Woods answered any and all questions about the soundness of his surgically repaired left knee or his ability to reach peak form despite an eight-week hiatus from the game he has dominated the past decade.
Despite two bogeys in his first three holes, Woods fought back from an early balky swing and moved into prime position after the second round of the 108th U.S. Open with a 3-under-par 68 that left him at 2-under 140 after 36 holes at Torrey Pines South.
The leader board will say that Woods, chasing his 14th career major championship, is tied for second place, one shot behind Stuart Appleby, his friend and longtime Orlando neighbor. But every man in the field, the thousands on the grounds in his swirling gallery and millions more watching around the world surely know that Woods, as usual, will be the man to catch over the next two days.
"I just kept patient; I was just trying to get back to even par for the tournament," Woods said. "I was playing well enough to do it, and all of a sudden, they started flying in from everywhere."
Appleby took the outright lead when he sank a 35-foot birdie putt at the 550-yard 18th hole for a round of 70 and 36-hole total of 3-under 139. With a second nine of 5-under 30, Woods is now tied for second place with Rocco Mediate (71) and Sweden's Robert Karlsson (70). Just a stroke behind that group are Lee Westwood, D.J. Trahan, Davis Love III and Miguel Ángel Jiménez, who shot the low round of the tournament with a 5-under 66 Friday.
Woods, the No. 1 player in the world, played the first two days in a dreamy threesome with No. 2 Phil Mickelson (75-146) and No. 3 Adam Scott (73-146). He sent an early message heard around the property with a stunning display of power and finesse at the 614-yard 13th hole, his fourth of the day after starting the second round on the back nine.
Woods unleashed a 320-yard drive over the yawning gorge to the middle of the fairway, then drilled a soaring 5-wood shot to an elevated green, leaving himself a 12-foot eagle putt. With thousands buzzing over that remarkable second shot, Woods evoked a mighty roar when his tricky left-to-right putt tracked into the middle of the cup.
That got Woods to 1 over for the tournament, but he gave two shots back later on his front side when he failed to get up and down from greenside bunkers at the 16th and 17th. His drive at the 573-yard 18th landed in a fairway bunker, forcing him to lay up on a hole he eventually parred, leaving him at 3 over for the tournament entering the first hole for his second nine.
In the first round, Woods made double bogey at the 448-yard No. 1. On Friday, he looked to be in trouble again after pushing his tee shot into the trees to the right. He got a fortunate break when his ball landed on a patch of hardpan dirt about two feet from a cart path, with no branches impeding his swing. Woods passed on the free drop to which he was entitled and opted to take his stance with both feet on the concrete path, though he easily could have slipped in his metal spikes.
With 160 yards to the flagstick, he hit a soaring 8-iron shot that landed softly on the green and rolled within eighteen feet. He drained the putt, accompanied by a huge roar, and was literally off and running.
"I got a great break," Woods said of the lie for his second shot. "Not only did I have a swing and a stance, I had a lie where I could control my distance."
That birdie was followed by a 16-footer for birdie at the 389-yard No. 2. He just missed a 20-footer for birdie at the 198-yard No. 3, but then sank birdie putts of 20 feet at the 488-yard No. 4 and 15 feet at the 453-yard No. 5, the last one getting him to 1-under for the tournament and within a shot of the lead.
In the morning portion of the draw, past major champions Davis Love III, Ernie Els and Geoff Ogilvy also pushed into serious contention on a course yielding just a smattering of sub-par rounds, though most players are raving that it's the fairest Open test they've seen in a long time.
"You can play on this golf course," Els said after his round of 72 left him at even-par 142, and only three shots off the lead. "It's as fair as I've seen it."
Love, 44, missed a good portion of last season because of back problems and kidney stones and has struggled this year as well, without a single top 20 finish in 12 starts on the PGA Tour. But the winner of the 1997 PGA Championship had a run of three birdies on his last four holes and came in with a 69 that left him at 1-under 141 for the tournament. It was just Love's second Open round in the 60s dating from 1998, and he has missed the cut in this event four of the past five years.
"I think physically I can play the game," Love said. "If I get on a roll, get my confidence going, I can have a few more really, really good years, and possibly great. . . . I heard [NBC announcer] Roger Maltbie during the telecast Thursday [when] somebody hit it in the rough and hit a wedge out and hit a wedge on the green and made a putt. He goes 'that's a U.S. Open par.' And I've been doing that, living that the last two days."
Els, a three-time major champion, has been doing much of the same grinding, blue-collar work, pushing back into the mix when he birdied the 17th and 18th holes to reach even par for the tournament. He said that for the first time in a long time, he's starting to believe he can play well enough again to contend for his first Open title since he won in 1997 at Congressional in Bethesda.
"Mentally I'm good, mentally I'm really up for it," he said. "I've got no problem getting myself motivated. I've played well in U.S. Opens before, so I kind of know what to do mentally and what to expect. Basically it's experience, and actually doing it."
His playing partner for the first two days, Ogilvy, said he will draw on his own experience in winning the Open two years ago at Winged Foot, when he survived a Sunday battle of attrition and ultimately prevailed with a 5-over winning score when everyone close to the lead, including Mickelson, wilted down the stretch.
Ogilvy posted a 73 that also left him at even-par 142 entering the weekend, and he had a number of chances to go much lower. On his front nine, he had three birdie putts inside 10 feet and missed all of them, and his 40-foot birdie putt at the 177-yard eighth hole lipped out.
The day was much less memorable for the two virtually unknown first round co-leaders, Kevin Streelman and Justin Hicks. Streelman, playing in the morning draw, turned a tee shot into the bunker at the 198-yard third hole into a triple bogey adventure and soared to a 77, leaving him at 4-over 145.
Hicks was 6-over after eight holes, posted 40 on the front and finished with an 80. At least both players made the cut of 7-over 149.
"If Thursday morning I would have said 3 over at a U.S. Open through two rounds, I would have taken it," Streelman said. "Hopefully it's my bad round and I'll make a move tomorrow."