Tiger Woods watched as his ball clipped the top of a large willow tree and fell 30 yards in front of him. Another swing moved the ball a measly few feet. Finally, on the third try, he punched out to the fairway, still 40 yards shy of the pin.

If ever there was a day when his extraordinary cut streak was going to end, this was it. But as he's done time and again, Woods wriggled his way out of danger yesterday in Lemont, Ill., holing a 60-foot putt for the first of back-to-back birdies that kept his weekend plans at the Western Open intact.

"It's just a matter of always playing hard," he said. "The old saying goes, 'You can't have the switch on and off.' You've got to have it always on, and that's how I've always played."

He finished with a 73 that put him at 1-over-par 143 for two rounds -- right on the projected cut line. But with the wind already starting to blow, Woods knew he was safe. Sure enough, when play was completed 61/2 hours later, the line was 2 over and Woods had made his 126th consecutive cut, the longest streak in PGA Tour history.

"You would think surely there would come a situation where he was so far against the wall that it would be near impossible, and the guy finds a way to do it," said Charles Howell III, who shares the lead with Matt Gogel and Steve Lowery.

As rocky as his first two rounds were, Woods isn't out of this thing, either. Howell (67), Gogel (64) and Lowery (68) are only seven strokes ahead, at 6-under 136. First-round leader Loren Roberts is three strokes back after a 4-over 75.

* CHAMPIONS TOUR: Peter Jacobsen's smile let everybody know he was back.

Returning to competitive golf for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his hip in April, Jacobsen shot a 6-under 64. He was tied with Jerry Pate and Bobby Wadkins for the first-round lead at the Long Island Classic.

* VSGA: Medalist Billy Hurley of Leesburg and fellow 22-year-old Ryan Stinnett of Amherst advanced to the 36-hole championship match in the VSGA's 91st State Amateur Championship with a pair of match-play victories.

Hurley beat Miller Baber of Roanoke, 4 and 2, in the quarterfinals on Baber's home course, the 6,469-yard Roanoke Country Club, then beat two-time champion Keith Decker of Martinsville, the state's top-ranked amateur, 3 and 2, in the afternoon semifinals.

Stinnett, a recent Virginia Tech graduate, beat Chesapeake's Adam Horton, 7 and 5, in the morning, blowing open a close match by making five birdies and an eagle in a six-hole stretch beginning at No. 8, then took a 4-up lead by the turn in the afternoon and beat former Hokies' teammate Ryan Sypniewski of Radford, 3 and 2.