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Tiger Woods breaks through with some birdies, but still well behind leader at the U.S. Open

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 19, 2010; D06

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. -- After two U.S. Open rounds in which he struggled with his putter and never really made much of a charge, Tiger Woods assessed his situation thusly: "I'm right there."

"I'm right there in the championship," he said Friday after managing a 1-over-par 72 that left him at 4-over 146 for the tournament, seven shots behind leader Graeme McDowell. "I just need to make a few more birdies, a few more putts on the weekend, and I'll be right there."

Woods began play at 8:06 a.m. local time from the 10th tee, with overcast skies and some cool fog setting a far different stage than his opening round. Pebble Beach's poa annua greens rolled more smoothly in the morning, as he expected, but he still struggled to make many putts. His first birdie of the tournament came on a chip-in from 20 yards out on the par-4 11th -- his second hole of the day -- and he finally made a birdie putt at the tricky par-5 14th, a confident stroke on a seven-footer.

But he missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the 18th, a par 5, and his only other birdie of the day came at the par-3 seventh.

"I think his ball-striking was pretty good the last two days," said Ernie Els, who played with Woods in the first two rounds. "His short game is pretty sharp. He just didn't make enough putts. He's skimming the hole. Nothing looks out of the ordinary."

That is the message Woods seemed to want to send: He enters the weekend of the Open, just his fifth tournament of the year, with a chance.

"I just need to keep progressing and keep moving my way up the board," Woods said. "It's a long haul. The U.S. Open is not going to get easier as the week goes on, especially on the weekend. And from what I hear, it's supposed to be overcast, so I'm sure there will be a few more birdies than we normally would see."

Penalty derails Micheel

Shaun Micheel entered the second round with a share of the lead, and he played splendidly on his first nine -- starting at No. 10 -- Friday morning, turning in even par for the day and 2 under for the tournament. But at the first hole he was in chipping from the greenside rough when his playing partners -- McDowell and Rocco Mediate -- thought they heard something ominous: Micheel's club hitting the ball twice.

"It's just one of those things that you just kind of see and you feel, and it just looked like a double-hit," McDowell said. "It's a really tough call."

Micheel didn't feel the contact, McDowell said. But officials from the United States Golf Association consulted McDowell, Mediate and their caddies, and they discussed the situation as Micheel played on. It may have rattled him; Micheel bogeyed four of his final eight holes, and when the USGA indeed ruled for a one-stroke penalty for the double-hit, he recorded a double-bogey 6 at the first -- good for a 77 that sent him backward to 4 over.

Frustration at the 14th

Rarely does a par 5 play as one of the most vexing holes in a major championship, but the 580-yard 14th at Pebble Beach ruined several rounds Friday. A tiny, slightly elevated green makes the third shot difficult, and if it's not precise, even lofted shots can roll down the sides into thick rough. Friday, 10 players made double bogey there, and eight scored worse. Zach Johnson made a 9, and first-round co-leader Paul Casey and defending PGA champion Y.E. Yang each made 8. Yang, in fact, was 1 over at the turn, but shot 49 on the back to miss the cut at 14 over. . . . Fairfax native Steve Marino shot 75 and stands at 6-over 148 in his second U.S. Open appearance.

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