The highest drama in the second round of the 86th PGA Championship occurred at the lower end of the scoreboard Friday, as Tiger Woods seemed to will himself to grind out three birdies on his final six holes and maintain one of the proudest accomplishments of his career -- his remarkable record streak of making cuts. On Friday, Woods did it the hardest way possible on a dreadfully difficult golf course, but the record lives, now at 129 straight after his second-round 69 left him at even-par 144 for the tournament.
"I saw a lot of you guys [reporters] coming out on the last few holes," Woods teased, "and I just wanted to ruin your day. . . . I wasn't playing that well, so I had to somehow just grind it out, be patient and hopefully things would come around. And they did. . . . I think that's the one thing I'm most proud of."
Woods, who was 3 over for the tournament after his first dozen holes Friday, will enter the weekend nine shots behind co-leaders Justin Leonard and Vijay Singh, tied at the top at 9-under 135 on a leader board that is top heavy with big-time players. Singh, the PGA Tour's leading money earner and already a four-time winner this year, posted a 68 at Whistling Straits playing with Woods in the afternoon, and Leonard came in a few minutes earlier with a 69.
The two leaders, both major championship winners, opened a one-shot advantage over Ernie Els (70), first-round leader Darren Clarke (71) and morning starter Briny Baird (69), all at 8-under 136 after 36 holes.
But most of the attention this cool and breezy afternoon was focused on Woods, the world's No. 1 ranked player who last year broke Byron Nelson's record of 113 straight made cuts, set from 1940 to '48.
A missed cut this week also could have been fatal to another of Woods's records. If he had failed to play on the weekend, and either Els or Singh were to win this final major Sunday, Woods's run of 331 weeks as the No. 1 player in the world rankings -- currently tied with Greg Norman's record -- also would end.
That is still a possibility. Els could take over No. 1 if he prevails and Woods is not second on his own, or is tied for second with one or two other players. If Els is second, as he has been in two majors this year, he'll take over the top spot if Woods finishes lower than 16th.
"It's definitely fun," Els said of being in contention for the fourth time in this season's major events. He was runner-up by a shot to Phil Mickelson at the Masters, lost by a shot to Todd Hamilton in a four-hole playoff at the British Open, and tied for ninth at the U.S. Open after entering the final round two shots back.
"It's not fun when you're playing a very difficult golf course and you're struggling, just kind of playing to finish," Els said. "But then you've got to deal with the pressure when you're in contention, day in and day out. We practice for this, and we live for this kind of moment now in my career."
Singh has been looking for a similar reward since 2000, when he won the last of his two majors at the Masters. A victory here likely would make him a significant candidate for PGA Tour player of the year, though he hasn't really contended on Sunday in any of the previous three majors, despite a sixth-place finish at Augusta National.
"You want to win majors, as many as you can," Singh said. "I have not played well in some of them. I've been in position to win; I just haven't finished the job. My putting was a big factor, and that's coming around now. I feel more comfortable with the putting, and it makes a big difference."
Singh began with a bogey when he three-putted from 45 feet on his first hole, but eventually settled down and had six birdies on his card, including a 25-footer at the 16th that earned him a share of the 36-hole lead.
"It was pretty intense out there when we started; the wind was blowing," he said. "Then Ernie went to 10 under so I thought, 'You have to play some golf to get there.' I kept my head on the front nine, kept the ball in play and then the wind died. When it died, I felt I could birdie a lot of holes coming in."
Leonard opened with birdies on two his first three holes and also birdied the 16th to get to 9 under for the tournament. The course was playing to its full 7,514 yards, the longest in major history, after tournament officials had shortened it by about 200 yards Thursday.
"It was set up more difficult, and I think that was the reaction to the low scoring yesterday," Leonard said. "Certainly, with the tees at 8, 11 and 18 being moved all the way back, I felt like the pin positions were a little tougher. I expect more of the same this weekend . . . "
Woods, meantime, got off to a grand start with birdies on the first two holes until his scattershot driving led to bogeys at the fifth and sixth holes. He was even par for the round through his first dozen holes, then started to exhibit the sort of form that once led to winning major championships, not making it into the weekend field.
At the 404-yard 13th hole, a second shot from the fairway left him a five-footer, and he made that birdie putt to get to 2 over. He attempted to drive the 373-yard 14th, but his tee shot landed in a bunker, and his blast went 20 feet past the hole. His birdie putt just missed, and he had to settle for par.
At the 518-yard 15th, the longest par 4 in major history, Woods was in a fairway bunker and hit his second shot to the front apron. From there he chipped within two feet and made the par putt. At the 569-yard 16th, Woods found the fairway off the tee and his second shot landed softly on the green, 35 feet from the cup. He two-putted for birdie there and was on the cut line, with two of the hardest holes on the course left.
At the 223-yard 17th, Woods's tee shot left him an 18-footer, and he made that putt for birdie, getting him to even par and providing a touch of breathing room. He didn't really need it. Though his second shot approach landed in deep rough to the right of the green, he managed to chop his ball out within four feet, then made the par-saving putt for 69 and his 129th straight cut.
"I'm very proud of it," Woods said. "I think maybe people do take it for granted because it's not very easy to do, and it's lasted a few years. Not too many people have been able to play as consistent as I have for a longer period of time."