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Woods Goes on a Breakaway

With a 64, he leads Furyk, Howell and Cink by five in a bid for his sixth consecutive win.

September 30, 2006|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

CHANDLER'S CROSS, England -- As happens from time to time on this green earth, the surname Woods just went floating up another Friday leaderboard to a perch so unaccompanied that second place seems stuck somewhere between third and hopeless.

There went that Tiger Woods again, seeing to it that English golf connoisseurs could know one of those Tiger Woods weekends when the challenges come not from the field but from the imagination.

With Woods at 15 under par after two rounds, the galleries at the American Express Championship could always walk around wondering whether Woods might really nibble at Ernie Els' 72-hole PGA Tour record of 31 under from the 2003 Mercedes Championships in Hawaii.

They could presume that with the world's greatest front-runner five shots clear of the 59 others, his sixth straight PGA Tour victory seems nigh enough that they can start wondering about seven or eight.

And they could always note his best start in six years, 63-64 at the Grove, set against the bedraggled feeling he reports after playing seven events in nine weeks, and wonder just what constitutes that inner motor that makes a weary 64 look airtight and perfunctory.

"I don't know, you'd think after winning a few, he wouldn't be as motivated, but that doesn't seem to happen to Tiger," Padraig Harrington said from fifth place, six shots behind.

"The winning score is not going to be 15," Woods said, "so you've got to continue making birdies."

If he has any trouble making birdies, that trouble would seem to come at No. 18, where he'd made not a single birdie during his first two rounds. He had, however, made two eagles.

On Thursday, his three-wood rocketed a ball 270 yards to a spot 20 feet to the left of the cup. On Friday, his five-wood hurried 245 yards to 10 feet behind the cup.

Had you glanced just before the ensuing eagle putt went in, you might've spotted Jim Furyk edging into the lead at 10 under par to Woods' nine.

Had you turned back around, you might've seen that lead flip into a deficit.

Then, Woods still had nine holes to play, having started on No. 10.

Noticing Furyk at seven under for the day through 13, Woods said, "I figured if I shot the same score he did, he wouldn't gain any ground. I was hoping I could get to seven, and I was able to do that."

Those last nine holes left room for four more run-of-the-mill birdies, and he closed at No. 9 by giving a good run to an impossible birdie putt from downtown Watford over a little ridge in a rainstorm.

He tapped in for 64, then gave the tournament a bit of conversational nuance when he said he'd played better, "more clean, more crisp," than he had in shooting his 63 Thursday.

All of that explains how Furyk, a scalding golfer shooting 65 Friday and coming off a gaudy summer that included a win in Canada and a nudge to No. 2 in the world rankings, came to join David Howell and Stewart Cink in a huddled mass at 10 under.

Woods, in front of English fans clearly elated to watch him, has established order in two rounds -- the first full of levity alongside playing partner and buddy Darren Clarke, the second more serious. Long noted for serious countenances on golf courses, he said Friday he could play it either way and that he and Clarke laughed less because Clarke felt "sick as a dog."

Woods added, "He didn't really do a whole lot of talking out there because he's got a really scratchy throat and some stuff flying up out of it, so I'm trying to stay away."

He wants to make it home to sit down and watch the baseball playoffs and have a golf-free October.

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