FARMINGDALE, N.Y. - That noted mudder, Tiger Woods, was at it again in the second round of the 102nd U.S. Open, sloshing and hydroplaning his way around soggy Bethpage Black and wringing out another sub-par round with his trusty new weapon - his putter.
For the second day in a row, Woods used his putter to make more saves than Jimmy Swaggart. Couple that with a flurry of early birdies and Woods has placed himself in commanding position to win his second major championship in a row and sixth in the past nine starts.
“I think anytime you can be near the lead going into the weekend, you're going to be happy,” said Woods, who is at 5-under 135 after 36 holes and has a three-shot lead on Padraig Harrington of Ireland. “I'm pleased and ecstatic that I'm at the top right now. But there's a long way to go. I've still got to go out there and play hard on the weekend.”
Perhaps, but on a course that has yielded just nine sub-par rounds in two days, Woods would appear to be a good bet to become the first player since Jack Nicklaus in 1972 to win the first two majors of the season and have a chance to capture the Grand Slam - golf's four major championships - in the same year.
Aside from Harrington, who shot 68 and is at 2-under 138, the only players who appear to have any reasonable chance to catch Woods are Sergio Garcia of Spain and Phil Mickelson, two of the top five players in the world. And they are seven and eight strokes back, respectively.
“I don't think anyone can beat him right now, even if they were tied with him” said Greensburg native Rocco Mediate, one of seven players at 4-over 144. “There's only a couple guys who can stand up to him and they have to prove they can.”
Even Woods, in a rare display of candor, said it might be difficult to make up that many strokes in an Open championship.
“It's going to be difficult, there's no doubt about it,” Woods said. “In any U.S. Open, it's always going to be difficult to make up shots because it's not easy to make birdies. You get rewarded for making pars. And the golf course is getting that way, where par is a really good score.”
Bethpage Black, already playing as the longest course in U.S. Open history, became even considerably longer in the second round when an all-day rain thickened the nasty rough and turned the tightly cropped fairways into water slides.
But the rain didn't discourage the United States Golf Association from stopping play, nor did it prevent Woods, the world's No. 1 player, from trying to hide from the field. After finishing his first round with a fist-pumping birdie, Woods came right out yesterday and birdied three of the first four holes - making a 4-foot birdie at No. 1, a 3-foot birdie at No. 2 and an 8-foot birdie at No. 4.
“I'm very pleased with the way I'm striking the golf ball this week,” Woods said. “And, more importantly, I'm really controlling my pace on the greens and making some key putts.”
Woods had nine one-putt greens, giving him 17 in two days. Some of the more spectacular one-putts were to save par, including an 18-footer at No. 9 and a 10-footer at No. 15.
But, for all his remarkable putts, his most satisfying save came from the shaggy grass behind the par-3 17th, when he nearly holed his chip shot from a downhill lie.
“Stevie [Williams, his caddie] almost ran me over, he was so pumped,” Woods said.
Now Woods knows how the rest of the field must feel.
Two years ago, he led the U.S. Open after the first round and won with a record score (12-under 272) and victory margin (15 shots). Since then, he has won the British Open, PGA and the Masters twice.
“If he doesn't win this week, I don't know what else can happen to him because the course is in perfect shape for him to win right now,” said Garcia, who shot 74 and is tied with Davis Love III, Jeff Maggert and Korea's K.J. Choi at 142. “He's just got to bang it out there, plug it in the fairway, hit it on the green. And you're going to have some birdie chances if the weather is half-decent.”
The third-round forecast is for morning showers and afternoon temperatures around 70.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gerry Dulac is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.