Reuters - Sat, 19 Jun 00:14:00 2010
Tiger Woods has been out of his comfort zone for much of this year since his private life spectacularly unravelled in December, but at least he moved into much more acceptable golfing territory in the second round of the US Open at Pebble Beach.
Despite again struggling with his putter on the small greens at Pebble Beach, the American world number one carded a one-over-par 72 in the second round and said he liked his position heading into the weekend.
"I feel very good," said the three-times US Open champion after posting a four-over total of 146 in cool, overcast conditions to lie seven strokes off the lead.
"I'm right there and I'm only seven back. And this is a long haul at a US Open. As we know, it's only going to get tougher as the weekend goes. The golf course will dry out."
Back at the venue where he delivered a mind-boggling 15-stroke victory at the 2000 US Open, Woods came into this week with major question marks hovering over his game.
He had played in only four PGA Tour events this season, with a best finish of joint fourth at the Masters in April and a missed cut at Quail Hollow, after he took nearly five months off following revelations of his marital infidelity.
Comfortably the best player of his generation, Woods has struggled for accuracy off the tee while battling a lingering neck injury and he recently parted company with his long-time swing coach Hank Haney.
This week, however, the 34-year-old has been greatly encouraged by his form from tee to green, having hit 20 of 28 very narrow fairways at Pebble Beach.
"I put the ball right where I need to be and I missed the ball on the correct sides," said Woods, who was entirely clad in black as he recorded three birdies, four bogeys and a total of 29 putts on Friday.
"Of all the shots I've hit this week, I think I've only short-sided myself two times so that's not bad."
Double US Open champion Ernie Els, who played the first two rounds with Woods this week, felt the American could not be discounted in his bid for a 15th major title.
"You can't. I think he's very close (to his best)," South African Els said. "I haven't played with him in about a year but his ball-striking was pretty good the last two days and his short game is pretty sharp. He just didn't make enough putts."
Woods, arguably the top putter from inside 15 feet for much of his career, has missed several good birdie chances over the first two days at Pebble Beach, especially on Thursday afternoon when the greens were bumpy.
"I'm just going to have to make a few more birdies," said Woods, who chipped in from just off the green at the par-four 11th on Friday for his first birdie of the tournament.
"I only made what? Three in the first two days. I'm going to have to make a few more over the weekend in order to win."
Woods would also have to make his biggest comeback after 36 holes at a major championship to seal victory on Sunday. At the 2005 Masters, he overcame a six-stroke deficit to beat fellow American Chris DiMarco in a playoff.