SAN FRANCISCO — Dressed in all black, Tiger Woods walked confidently to the first tee on Friday afternoon, looking like a prize fighter who was about to step into the ring and go 10 rounds with one of golf's greatest heavyweights -- Olympic Club.
With fans packed at least 10 deep along the fairway cheering him on, the only thing missing from the raucous scene was a ring announcer to make everyone aware of his arrival. Luckily someone in the gallery had it covered.
The champ is here!
Woods is still 36-holes from being crowned U.S. Open champion for the fourth time in his career, but at the midway point of golf's most grueling test, he's tied for the lead at 1-under after grinding out an even-par 70 that has him tied with Jim Furyk and David Toms.
Like a heavyweight fight between two of the best boxers in the world, it's tough to tell who's winning the battle right now. There were moments during Friday's round where it felt like Woods was starting to gain the edge, after he laced a 4-iron short of the green on the par-3 third hole and watched as the ball rolled to within four feet of the cup for his first birdie of the day.
It felt like the tides were turning. Woods had a one-shot lead and the rest of the field was falling off the pace -- including first-round leader Michael Thompson, who was 3-over through his first three holes Friday.
But instead of seizing the moment, Woods stumbled, missing a 5-footer for par on the fifth hole that set the tone for an ominous three-hole stretch.
Still stewing from his bogey, Woods ripped a 2-iron off the tee, leaving himself with 230 yards to one of the toughest greens on the course. Eyeing a pin that was tucked back left, Woods hit a 4-iron that looked to be going right at the pin before it appeared to land just short in a greenside bunker.
However, when Woods approached his ball, he noticed that it was sitting in a precarious position right on the lip. Woods' level of frustration started to rise, as he stepped in and out of the bunker, trying to figure out how he was going to play the chip.
After looking nearly flawless for 22 holes, Woods appeared to be on the verge unraveling. He hit the chip well past the hole, watching as it trickled into the rough behind the green. Another bogey. Then came a third on the drivable seventh hole, as Woods three-putted from 10 feet.
As quickly as the momentum had shifted in Woods' favor, he gave it all back to the course in a matter of four holes and looked to be on the ropes. While it suddenly seemed to be all going wrong, Woods didn't panic. In true U.S. Open fashion, he battled back, closing out the front nine with two pars before rolling in a lengthy birdie putt that seemed to not only energize the crowd but Woods as well.
In a tournament that's had more twists and turns than Olympic Club's fourth hole fairway, Woods was able to grind and remain patient, closing out the final nine holes in 2-under to grab a share of the 36-hole lead for the ninth time in his career.
We all know the stat on Tiger holding at least a share of the lead at the midway point of a major. He's gone on to win the tournament eight times. And the way he's playing at the moment, the thought of him making it nine-for-ten is looking better by the day.
For the second day in a row, Woods didn't press. With the exception of a couple wayward shots, he stuck to his game plan of hitting irons off the tee and playing to a yardage that allowed him to attack the greens in a number of different ways.
At just over 7,100 yards, Olympic Club is a course where accuracy needs to be at the top of your list. Woods understands that better than anyone in the field. Through two rounds, he's used the driver or 3-wood seven times, opting for a long iron that keeps it in play.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that his plan is working perfectly: he's leading the field in driving accuracy (75 percent). It's a stat that most likely will be the difference between winning and losing this week.
"Being patient is certainly something that we have to do in Major Championships and I think I've done a pretty good job of that over the years," Woods said after his round. "I won my fair share, and I understand how to do it."
With Furyk and Toms both at 1-under, this tournament is far from over. But the way Woods is striking the ball and finding ways to grind and recover when things don't go his way, you get the feeling that the weekend could be his for the taking.
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