Tiger leads through 36? Hand him the jug

Updated: July 23, 2006, 6:44 PM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

HOYLAKE, England -- We have reached the Denial Stage of this British Open.

Tiger Woods is in the lead, on task and destined to become this championship's first repeat winner since Tom Watson in 1982-83. I gave fair warning after the first round, and it's even more obvious after the second.

He's holing 4-irons from 200 yards out. He's rolling in putts. His 2-iron shots are flying more precisely than Air Force smart bombs. He's in such total command that even a mystifying post-round question about tennis, Bjorn Borg and Italy produced an informed answer.

Tiger Woods
AP PhotoHis fellow competitors think they're still in it, but Tiger has the Claret Jug locked up.
Meanwhile, Tiger's pursuers are still insisting they have a chance. Denial.

"This course can bite anyone, even Tiger, and he's not foolproof," Adam Scott said. "My goal is to get a couple back on him tomorrow, and then you never know what can happen on Sunday."

Yes, we do. The man is 6-for-6 when leading majors at the midway point. Nobody else can make a 1-stroke lead on Friday look like six touchdowns.

"He's No. 1, but you don't worry about what other players are doing," said Miguel Angel Jimenez, lying like a used-car salesman. "You've just got to focus on yourself."

Right. Just ignore that steaming locomotive blowing past you.

"I don't think anyone is scared of him," Geoff Ogilvy said. "I think it's more a case of everyone thinking, 'Here we go again,' but he's quite a few years removed from that sort of form. He did win at St. Andrews last year, but he didn't win as convincingly as he did in 2000."

Now that's true. It was a mere 5-stroke rout last year, as opposed to the 8 in 2000. Clearly, that's a vulnerability!

Fact is, one of the greatest locks in sports is Woods winning from in front. He's Federer on grass, Brady in the Super Bowl, Kobayashi in the hot dog eating contest. It's time for his competitors to crawl out of that denial stage and admit it.

Barring an unforeseen explosion of bad weather, it's very hard to see Woods failing to continue his current role. Unlike Phil Mickelson or Retief Goosen, Tiger almost never finds a way to beat himself.

In fact, he's safeguarding against that very possibility by continuing to patiently punch irons off the tees and keep his driver in his bag. A spate of wild driving might be the only thing that could derail Tiger, and he's simply not going to go there.

"He wouldn't like me saying this, but he doesn't drive it as straight as he used to," Ogilvy said. "But on this course, we don't need it. He can just hit 2-irons, and he's the best 2-iron player we've ever seen."

Woods' combination of analytical golf and creative golf is perfectly tailored to the British Open -- especially this one. Accuracy and bunker avoidance trumps power here, and the ability to hit a wide variety of shots trumps the usual target-golf mentality on the PGA Tour.

When it comes to horses for courses, Tiger is Secretariat and Royal Liverpool is the Belmont.

"Tiger at his best is hard to beat," Chris DiMarco said. "Tiger at a course he likes at his best is really hard to beat."

It will take something more than denial to beat Woods this weekend. It will take something approaching a miracle.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.