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Published: Saturday, 8/14/2004

Tiger rallies to make cut

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

HAVEN, Wis. - Tiger Woods kept pro golf's most remarkable and underrated streak alive yesterday, but seems destined to watch another less-favorable streak grow.

Woods rallied with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 at Whistling Straits to get to even par and survived the PGA Championship cut, marking the 129th consecutive tournament in which he has done so.

Woods still has plenty of heavy lifting to do over the final 36 holes, though, considering he is nine shots in arrears of co-leaders Justin Leonard and Vijay Singh.

Singh fired a 4-under 68 and Leonard a 69 to tie at 9-under 135 at the midway mark of the 86th PGA. That's a stroke better than the threesome of Briny Baird (69), Ernie Els (70) and Darren Clarke (71). Chris DiMarco is next best at 6-under 138 after a round of 70.

But all eyes were on Woods, who was still 3-over when he made the turn.

"I was thinking about it a little, sure, because I wasn't playing well," Woods said. "I had to gut it out, be patient, and hope things would come around. They did."

When Woods teed off there were already 80 players at 2-over or better and he realized that the cut, to the low 70 scores and ties, would likely be at 1-over.

At plus-3, he got closer to that number with a five-foot birdie putt at No. 13. His try to go for the green with his tee shot at No. 14 didn't pay dividends and his tee shot at the next hole went wide right and into a fairway bunker.

Woods came to No. 16 still needing one birdie to get to 1-over and he produced it with a perfect drive that led to his reaching the par-5 green in two. His eagle putt barely missed before he rammed in a four-footer for birdie.

For good measure, Tiger hit a 6-iron from 228 yards at the par-3 17th to within 18 feet and knocked the putt dead center.

Later, Woods chuckled when asked if the streak is underappreciated by the average fan.

"Well, it's not really talked about unless I'm pretty close to missing it," he said. "It's one of those things I'm really proud of.

"I think maybe people do take it for granted because it's really not easy to do and it has lasted a few years. Not too many people have been able to play as consistently as I have for a longer period of time.

"I don't leave anything on the golf course. I try as hard as I can, regardless of how well I'm playing. I think the one thing I'm most proud of is that I've never bagged it. I've never dogged it. I try hard from the first hole to the 18th."

Considering there are several formulas by which Woods could fall from the No. 1 world ranking he has held for 331 weeks, he was asked which meant more, the cut streak or being No. 1.

"The streak," he said without hesitation. "Who cares about No. 1? I mean, it's great to be No. 1, but it's not the end all. I think [the cut streak] is pretty cool. You have bad days. Somehow, you find something within yourself to get it done."

Singh didn't have to find anything yesterday because he was pretty much spot-on from start to finish. He had a bogey on the first hole, but birdied three of the next four to get headed in the right direction.

"I kept my head and played well the first nine," he said. "Then the wind died and the way I was driving the ball I felt I could birdie some holes coming in."

Singh and Leonard both have major championships in their past, but Singh has not won one since the 2000 Masters while Leonard has been shut out since the '97 British Open.

"Justin is a good player, a big-game player," Singh said. "He's not scared to win and, obviously, he's playing really good right now."

Leonard's round included five birdies and two bogeys on a course that most players felt was toughened after 39 players broke par in Thursday's first round.

"I felt the golf course was set up more difficult today," Leonard said. "And, yes, I'm sure it was the reaction to the low scoring yesterday. The tees at [Nos.] 8, 11 and 18 were moved back and the pin positions were a little tougher today.

"But the wind died down as the day went on and I guess that sort of offset the difficulty some."

Apparently so. Despite the added length - Whistling Straits played at its full 7,514 yards yesterday - there were 53 subpar scores recorded. Only one, though, was really low as Miguel Angel Jiminez of Spain carded a 65.

Seventy-three players made the cut at 1-over 145. Among those who failed were Ryder Cup hopeful Fred Funk (146), Jose Maria Olazabal (146), Mike Weir (146), Sergio Garcia (146), Jesper Parnevik (147), Ben Curtis (147), Davis Love III (148), Jim Furyk (153), John Daly (157) and David Duval (158).

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398



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