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Woods Steals Spotlight Just by Making the Cut

He has to rally with late birdies at PGA, but he is still well behind co-leaders Singh and Leonard.

August 14, 2004|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

KOHLER, Wis. — And you thought there was nothing more exciting than watching Tiger Woods on the Sunday back nine, trying to win a major ...

How about Woods on the Friday back nine of a major, trying to make the weekend?

The second day of the 86th PGA Championship here at Whistling Straits was packed with drama but for weird reasons.

Lost in the white-knuckle emotions of Woods' surviving the 36-hole threshold and extending his miraculous streak of cuts made to 129 overall and 32 in major tournaments dating to the 1997 Masters, was a little something called ... the golf tournament.

Here's what happened while eyes fixed on Woods as he fist-pumped his way past the cut line with dramatic birdies on the par-five 16th hole and par-three 17th.

Vijay Singh, a relatively silent partner in Woods' playing group, quietly posted a four-under-par 68 to claim a share of the 36-hole lead at nine-under 135.

Who is Singh, really, other than a two-time major champion and this year's leading money winner on tour?

For what it's worth, Singh also made the cut and shares the halfway lead with Justin Leonard, who followed his opening 66 with a three-under 69.

Three players -- Briny Baird, Ernie Els and Darren Clarke -- are one shot back at eight-under 136; Chris DiMarco is three shots off the lead at 138, and four players are four shots behind at 139.

Still in touch with the leader board is Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who shot even-par 72 and stands at three-under 141.

Woods shot a 69 on Friday and stands at even-par 144 and tied for 44th. And now that he has escaped the cut line, it is conceivable he could make a dramatic weekend charge.

Such is Woods' star power that he can still overwhelm events in the throes of relative -- for him -- mediocrity and overshadow the exploits of men who actually have a chance to win this tournament.

Boy, though, Woods did make things exciting. With the projected cut line at one over, Woods stood at three over on the 13th hole and responded by making birdies on three of his final six holes, making the cut with a stroke to spare.

Was he worried?

You bet.

"I was thinking about it a little bit because I wasn't playing well," he said.

He also said that making the cut every week was more important to him than being the world's No. 1 ranked player because it proved he came to play, week in and out, whether in fine form or not.

"I think that the one thing I'm most proud of is that I've never bagged it," he said. "I've never dogged it. I've tried hard from the first hole all the way to the 18th when I finish out."

Singh was less interested in rehashing Woods' surge, although -- rest assured -- he was asked about it.

"I don't know," said Singh, the 1998 PGA champion. "I was focused on my game, I'm sorry."

Among the more interesting names sandwiched among the leaders is Baird, who shot a 69.

Baird, a 32-year-old Floridian, perfectly fits the bill of nobody players (think Shaun Micheel, Rich Beem and David Toms) who typically make a play for the PGA Championship.

Baird, for example, joined the PGA Tour in 1999 but has yet to win a tournament.

He boasts a funny name and a funky putting stance.

You can say with confidence that Baird is not on Hal Sutton's short list for the Ryder Cup team.

Statistical line on Baird's last six tournaments before this week: cut, cut, tied for 46th, tied for 40th, cut, cut -- not exactly a player that exudes confidence.

"I can't come in thinking I've got a greater shot at winning this golf tournament than I do," he said. "Because the fact of the matter is, Ernie has a better chance of winning this golf tournament than I do, or Tiger or Vijay, those guys, just because they have done it."

Baird has memories of being in contention at the PGA and they aren't particularly good.

He stood in fifth place last year at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., only to shoot a final-round 81 and finish tied for 39th.

Baird said of that day, "I'm not saying you throw in the towel, but sometimes it's just really, really hard to concentrate when things are not going your way."

Not to be ignored were the foibles of Phil (Mickelson), who has finished first, second and third in the first three majors this year and may be primed to finish fourth here.

Mickelson began the day four shots off the lead and raced to six-under with a 33 on the front nine. He got to within two shots of the leader, Baird at that point, when his putter sputtered.

In one four-hole stretch on his back nine, Mickelson went on a four-over-par bender, making a double bogey at the par-five fifth hole and bogeys on holes 7 and 8.

He rallied with a birdie on his final hole, the ninth, and finished even for the day, but knew he had squandered a chance.

Finishing his round about the time the leaders were going off, Mickelson could only hope the field would not run away from him.

Luckily for him, they did not.

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