As Tiger Woods laughed at the wind and insinuated himself atop the PGA Championship leaderboard Friday, there wasn't much about his oft-dissected game left to pick apart.
Off the tee, he was precise enough, hitting 10 of 14 fairways. That despite all the signs of the big breeze returning to the Ocean Course: The wind-bent sea oats making like a bad comb-over, the telltale flapping of pastel pants legs.
Putting, the great equalizer, the element that eventually lays all great golfers low, was certainly no problem. Woods ranks among the top fourth in the field in fewest putts after 36 holes (48). Where nerve left off, good fortune kicked in. Not one, but two of his short putts Friday circumnavigated the hole before spiraling in.
"I'm swinging it well," he said afterward. "I've been driving the ball well all year, and I've been putting streaky all year. Finally, I've married the two together, and it's working out."
Which leads to scoring. He handled that better than most. His second-round 71 was one of only five sub-par rounds Friday. Overall, the field's scoring average Friday (78.13) was nearly five strokes higher than Thursday (73.33).
The only round in the 60s belonged to 49-year-old Vijay Singh, whose 69 staked him to a share of the lead. First-round leader Carl Pettersson limited his damage Friday, shot 74 and also found himself 4 under at the halfway point. Twenty players are within five shots of the lead.
About all that remained for Woods was a little Karmic clean-up. There was a potential birdie chip on No. 9 Friday, one that rolled right up to the hole, dangled on edge but would not drop. A few years ago, that would have fallen every time. The Fates would have had it no other way (see Woods' mythic chip-in on No. 16, 2005 Masters).
Overall, "I'm very pleased," Woods said. "I was very pleased to be able to shoot under par today. That was the goal. Anything par or better today was going to be a great score."
Many others were blown away on this gusty day. The victims of the elements were scattered throughout the list of the world's top 20-ranked players who missed the cut: No. 4 Lee Westwood (77 on Friday), No. 9 Matt Kuchar (82), No. 14 Hunter Mahan (80), No. 20 Rickie Fowler (80). U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson shot himself out of the tournament in the first day, going 79-72.
Dayton, Ohio, PGA pro Doug Wade put up a 93, just one stroke off the record highest round ever for this major.
Many of those still around for the weekend suffered the cruelty of the crosswind. Gary Woodland led temporarily Friday before playing his final 11 holes in 7 over. John Daly, whose first-round 68 was the buzz of the tournament, bogeyed his first three holes but didn't totally self-destruct, finishing with a 77.
By simply doing himself no harm, Phil Mickelson shot a 71 and climbed to even par for the tournament, four back of the lead. "If I'm within four shots or so heading into the weekend," he said upon finishing early in the day, "that a really good position. I can actually feel my game getting better as the week's gone on."
By day's end Woods was the one left looking like the best wind player since John Coltrane.
Now he must show it on the weekend of a major. His final hole Thursday was not a happy omen -- clanging his drive off one of the luxury suites lining the left side of the fairway, then eventually three-putting from 30 feet for bogey.
Once more the golf world waits on Woods to close the deal in one of these big tournaments, to get back to the business of adding to his total of major titles, stuck at 14 for four years now.
He led after two rounds of this year's U.S. Open and went 8 over on the weekend. This season he has yet to shoot a weekend sub-par round at a major.
He'll be paired with Singh Saturday, who between them have six PGA Championship titles. Woods cannot claim a monopoly on experience. Nor on confidence. "I've been playing well for awhile," Singh said. "The last two weeks were great [top 10s at the British and Canadian Opens], and so far here it has been unbelievable."
Woods feels on the verge, also. "As far as the last couple majors, hey, I'm right there with a chance and I like that," he said. "I'm playing better to where I'm going to give myself chances in major championships. I'm right there.
"I'm in good shape."
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