June 15, 2012

Tiger tied for lead at Open after second-round 70

SAN FRANCISCO — Tiger Woods knew he would be tested, and he was Friday in the second round of the 112th U.S. Open at sun-splashed and historic Olympic Club. Playing on a cloudless day with tricky ocean breezes blowing off the Pacific, he posted a hard-earned, even-par 70 to gain a share of the halfway lead.

A three-time winner looking for his 15th major championship, Woods has a 36-hole score of 1-under 139 and is tied with Jim Furyk and David Toms. Each owns a major title.

Tiger and Furyk, longtime friends and often partners in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches, will play together in the final twosome on Saturday, when temperatures are expected to reach 80 degrees.

“That was not easy,” said a drained Woods, who still found energy to visit the practice range and putting green afterward. “That golf course was some kind of quick. It got dried out. The wind was swirling a little bit out there. It was really, really tough. Just had to stay as patient as I possibly could, and I did a really good job of that today.”

How tough was it? Only six of the 156 players in the field broke par, with Hunter Hamrick leading the way with a 67. In the past, Woods has done well when tied or leading a major after 36 holes, winning eight of nine times.

“Being patient is certainly something we have to do in major championships, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that over the years,” he said. “I won my fair share, and I understand how to do it.”

Woods showed great resiliency Friday. After a strong start that saw him play the first four holes in 1-under, he bogeyed three straight. Tiger regrouped and played the last 11 holes in 2-under.

“It was a tough little stretch,” Woods said. Prior to teeing off, Casey Martin, Tiger’s former teammate at Stanford, stopped by the first tee to wish his friend good luck.

“Go get ’em, buddy,” Martin said. “We’re rooting for you.” A late starter with Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, Woods flushed a 3-wood down the center of the fairway at the par-4 first. His downhill second shot found the middle of the green and rolled about 50 feet past the cup. Woods then scared the hole but ran about three feet past and converted for par.

At the par-4 second, Champions Tour standout Fred Couples and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who starred at the nearby University of California, joined the gallery. Woods took off his sweater before teeing off and hit a long iron into the left rough. His second shot came up short-left of the green, where Tiger hit a nice chip to four feet and made the par-saving putt.

The 220-yard, par-3 third hole plays downhill and features a narrow green. The pin was located on the front-left of the green, and Tiger hit a beautiful shot that landed just short of the putting surface and rolled six feet above the hole. Woods rolled in the birdie putt to take the lead at 2-under for the tournament.

Sticking to his game plan, Tiger used an iron off the tee at the dogleg-left, par-4 fourth hole. His uphill second shot from 173 yards finished 30 feet left of the hole, and he two-putted easily.

At the 498-yard, par-4 fifth, Woods sacrificed distance for accuracy, hitting the fairway with a long iron. However, he was left with 209 yards to the hole and hit his second shot in the right greenside bunker. With little green to work with, Tiger hit a marvelous sand shot straight up into the air, and the ball settled four feet behind the hole. The par putt was slick, and Woods missed to the right.

Tiger again used an iron at the 485-yard, par-4 sixth to avoid a fairway bunker on the left. He caught a bad break when his second shot, a 4-iron, hopped out of the left greenside bunker and stopped three feet above the sand in tall grass.

With the ball well above his feet, Woods had to stand in the bunker to play his third shot and almost hit the pin, the ball rolling to the back collar against thick rough. Tiger hit a nice chip within a foot of the cup but sustained his second straight bogey.

Most consider the first six holes the toughest on the course. On Thursday, Woods played them in a stellar 1-under par. On Friday, he completed them in 1-over.

“That’s not too bad,” he said.

At the uphill, 275-yard, par-4 seventh, where the tees were moved up to encourage players to try to drive the green, Woods drove into the left greenside bunker and was faced with a 100-foot sand shot to a back-right pin located on the second tier of the green. Tiger hit a nice explosion shot nine feet short of the hole and just missed his birdie attempt, the ball slipping five feet past the cup. Woods lipped out his par attempt — his first three-putt of the tournament — and walked away with his third consecutive bogey.

“I knew that pin was dicey,” Woods said. “In the practice rounds, I had run that putt by. I gave it probably an extra half a cup because of that. And I still missed it on the low side, and it ran out and I missed the second putt.”

Looking to stop the bleeding, Woods hit a solid tee shot to the uphill, 192-yard, par-3 eighth hole, where spectators packed a hillside on the right. Tiger’s drive landed just short of pin-high but released 34 feet past the hole. He easily two-putted the slick downhill putt and settled for a par.

Woods hit a driver for the first time in the round at the par-4 ninth and split the fairway. His approach shot wound up 20 feet above the hole, and he just missed his birdie bid, carding par to make the turn in 2-over 36.

With the enormous gallery growing bigger by the moment, Tiger drilled another long driver at the 432-yard, par-4 10th, leaving only 82 yards to the flag. Woods hit a nice sand wedge that hit short of the hole and flirted with the pin but released 28 feet beyond. This time, he was not denied: Tiger drained the downhill, left-to-right putt for a birdie.

At the 430-yard, uphill, par-4 11th, Woods crushed another big drive down the fairway but was not pleased with his second shot, the wind fooling him and the ball winding up 35 feet from the hole. Tiger two-putted for a par.

Woods drove into the left rough at the tight, 451-yard, par-4 12th, and caught a spongy lie. Using all of his strength, he muscled his second shot onto the center of the green, forcing a smile, and two-putted from 32 feet below the cup.

At the 172-yard, par-3 13th hole, located just across the street from Lake Merced, Tiger flushed a 7-iron and nearly made an ace, the ball trickling five feet past the cup. Woods read the birdie putt perfectly and poured it into the center of the cup.

Tiger hit a 3-iron stinger off the tee down the right side of the fairway at 419-yard, par-4 14th hole, which doglegs sharply from right to left. He didn’t have a good angle to the middle-right pin placement and played conservatively, his second shot from 147 yards coming up 35 feet short of the pin. Woods hit a nice lag putt within a foot of the cup and secured his par.

At the 143-yard, par-3 15th, where the pin was placed back-left, Tiger punched a short iron 22 feet below the hole and misread the left-to-right putt — the only green on the course that doesn’t break toward Lake Merced. He tapped in for a par.

Next up was the dogleg-left, par-5 16th hole, the longest in U.S. Open history. Unlike Thursday, when the hole measured 660 yards, the USGA shortened it to 609, encouraging players to try and reach the green in two. Woods nuked his fifth driver of the day with an ideal right-to-left draw, and his ball traveled 329 yards, airmailing Watson by about 30.

“It’s easier for me to hit the ball further because I’m turning it over,” said Woods. “And I hammered it out there, but Bubba’s playing a big cut. He went to the middle part of the tee box and shaped it more.”

With 283 yards left to the green, Tiger nailed a 3-wood that hung right and caught the greenside bunker. Faced with a 65-foot shot from an awkward stance to the back-left pin, Woods blasted 18 feet short of the pin and burned the left edge with his birdie putt, settling for a par.

Tiger hit another big drive at the uphill, par-5 17th and had just over 200 yards to the green. Hitting directly into the sun, he flushed a 4-iron that landed just short of the green but rolled past the pin over the green and down a slope into a controversial, closely-mowed chipping area. Woods was disappointed to say the least.

“I thought I threw it up high enough to land it soft enough, and evidently it didn’t,” he said.

Tiger hit a sensational pitch up the hill and between trees that landed softly and trickled about 10 feet right of the hole. He hit a good putt, but was fooled by the break, the ball missing left.

At the dinky-but-dangerous, par-4 finishing hole, Woods split the fairway with an iron and had about 120 yards up the hill to the green. Again the wind fooled him, and he came up short in the front bunker. Tiger hit a nice sand shot about four feet right of the hole and converted the slippery right-to-left putt.

Woods had another solid day of ball-striking. He hit 14 of 18 greens and 11 of 14 fairways in regulation, remarkable given how firm the course is playing, and is the 36-hole leader in driving accuracy at 75 percent. After using 29 putts on Thursday, he had 31 Friday.

“Unfortunately, I just can’t get myself in position to make putts,” Woods said.

Tiger said the key to keeping his round together was the eighth hole.

“I hit a beautiful 5-iron,” he said. “Took something off it and let it go where I wanted to be. That was more important than the birdie at 10.”

Martin, who qualified for the tournament and played two practice rounds with Woods, thinks his friend’s game has returned and is pulling for him this week.

Martin, who finished at 9-over and missed the cut, had a sense Tiger would play well this week after spending some time with him on the course.

“I just know that when you listen to those shots and just watch him play, it’s hard to find any criticism of his game,” said Martin, the golf coach at the University of Oregon. “It was really good.”

Woods knows the next two days will be a grind, but welcomes the challenge.

“This is a different tournament,” he said. “You just plod along. You have to stay patient, got to stay present, and you’re just playing for a lot of pars. This is not a tournament where we have to make a bunch of birdies.”

Woods will tee off with Furyk at 6:05 p.m. ET on Saturday.