'Patient' Woods can't close on leaders


SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- The cut streak? Still growing.

The hopes for a third U.S. Open? Still there.

And the invincibility? Still intact, but teetering, though it looked a little better as the sun set Friday afternoon on the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.

First things first: Don't worry, America (and nervous NBC executives). Tiger Woods will play the weekend at Shinnecock Hills. He made the cut for the 125th straight tournament, shooting 69 on Friday afternoon after surviving 26 straight holes without making a birdie.

He's 1-over for the championship and seven shots out of the lead. But it could have been worse. And Woods, while saying he's content to be where he is, knows it.

Second things second: Woods showed signs of life late in his round. He got up-and-down from a greenside bunker for a birdie at the par-5 fifth hole (his 14th of the day), and responded by putting his index finger to his lips and making the sign of the number "1" in the air.

He then drained a putt on the sixth hole for a second straight birdie to put him back in the top 20. He finished tied for 18th.

Third things third: Woods clearly has come to battle with a golf game in flux. In the morning, former coach Butch Harmon, who's been getting on Woods' case recently, upped the ante and, according to Reuters, told European broadcaster Sky Sports that: "Tiger Woods is not playing well, he is not working on the right things in his golf swing although obviously Tiger thinks
he is.

"He should have felt 'I could win this tournament by six, seven, eight shots.' That was the old Tiger Woods."

Then, Harmon added:

"But for him to stand there at every one of his interviews and say 'I am close, I feel really good about what I am doing', I think it might be a bit of denial."

The day got worse from there. Caddie Steve Williams kicked the lens of a camera on the 10th tee (Woods' first hole) and Tiger made bogey. He settled into 12 straight pars, but several required testy saves.

He made an 8-footer for par at the second hole, and talked about keeping the "momentum" going. A string of pars isn't Woods' usual mode of "momentum."

"Had to keep being patient," Woods said several times after his round, something hard to do when the leaders are collecting birdies in bunches.

The fact remains that Woods still played too many shots from the fescue rather than the fairway (he hit seven fairways on Friday and has hit 12 of 28 in two days). Consequently, he's tied for 81st in greens in regulation (leaders Phil Mickelson and Shigeki Maruyama are first and second, respectively).

He still couldn't get many putts to drop (he's 17th in the rankings, but the missed greens helps cut down the putts). He said the greens were slow after an overnight rain and he left a couple of "dead-center" putts short. "Difference between yesterday's speed and today's speed," he lamented.

In the end, his prodigious short game kept him at least in sight of the leaders, most noticeably at the 18th hole (his ninth), when he got up and down from the hay after leaving his second shot short of the green.

What it all means in the end? He will join Sweden's Daniel Chopraat 1:10 p.m. for the third round -- a rather un-Tigerlike hour at a major (He's nearly two hours ahead of the leaders), but better than a flight home on his Gulfstream, which was not out of the realm of possibility. At one point midway through his round, he was 3-over and facing that testy par putt at the second hole that would have put him on the cut line.

Instead, he saved another par that served as "momentum" and at least a hint of getting back to even par, which quickly became Woods' goal Friday afternoon.

"That would have been nice," Woods said, "but I'm pleased to be where I'm at, too."

Pleased. Seven shots back.

Teetering, but intact.