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Woods' 68 puts charge into Torrey

He birdies four out of five holes and shoots a 30 on his back nine to get within a shot of Appleby's lead at the halfway point.

June 14, 2008|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

LA JOLLA -- His left knee could be hurting him, he might be playing his first tournament in two months and he may have started with four bogeys on his first nine holes, but at the midway point of the U.S. Open, there's only one player in front of Tiger Woods.

Stuart Appleby's cross-country birdie putt at the 18th hole Friday at Torrey Pines was not only noteworthy for the ground it covered, about 45 feet, but also for the fact that it concluded a one-under-par round of 70 and turned out to be worth a one-shot lead over Woods, Rocco Mediate and Robert Karlsson.

Appleby said he won't exactly be looking over his shoulder at Woods.

"He wants to go play golf, we want to go play golf, and I'll be doing my best to accidentally throw a club toward his sore knee," Appleby said. "It would be an accident, of course."

Woods almost made it all look so easy, except for the fact that it wasn't, but going five under on the front, his back nine holes, looks good in retrospect.

"I shot 30 on my back nine in a U.S. Open, that's not too bad," he said.

Woods climbed over 29 players with his three-under 68, wound up the U.S. Open clock and got it ticking on Tiger time.

Four birdies in a five-hole stretch. From three over to one under, and then two under. From off the board to into their heads.

When Woods finished, nudging a tricky, slippery six-footer into the hole at the ninth for his fifth birdie on his last nine holes, it was probably a sign that there's a wild weekend coming up at Torrey.

Woods wasn't sure if he had been in the zone or not.

"Whether you call it the zone or not, it just feels it's a nice rhythm," the two-time Open winner said. "Been there before.

"I was just trying to get back to even par, to be honest with you. That's all I was trying to do. And I just happened to make a couple more putts. That's about it."

If he had been willing or selfish enough to admit it, Woods' round couldn't have been scheduled better, coming in the second round so he didn't have to depend on something like it later in the tournament, sending a message to the rest of the field, reinforcing his self-confidence and telling himself his knee isn't such a bother.

Naturally, because this is the U.S. Open, there's much more going on than just who's in front. There are 12 players within three shots of Appleby, who is at three-under 139.

Mediate, who birdied the 18th for a 71, and Karlsson, who did the same thing for his 70, helped steady a rocky afternoon for the half of the field that drew the later tee times.

D.J. Trahan, Davis Love III, Lee Westwood and Miguel Angel Jimenez are tied for fifth, two shots behind Appleby. Jimenez' 66 was the low round of the day, when few resembling anything like that were turning up.

An hour before Woods' tee time, he was whacking balls on the driving range, a phalanx of 12 cameras pointed at him and at least two dozen from the media studying his every movement.

Woods' opening moment wasn't so great, a three-putt bogey at his first hole, the 10th, followed by a missed green that led to another bogey at the 12th, an alarming trend of misdirection.

An eagle at the par-five 13th helped, but Woods didn't appear to be headed for anything special after his first nine holes, not with four bogeys.

That changed in a hurry, which is the Woods way.

Woods made the turn with a bang, rolling in a birdie putt from 15 feet above the hole after hitting his approach shot while standing on the cart path. From 25 feet below the hole at No. 2, Woods made it back-to-back birdies.

Woods reached even par for the tournament when he made a 20-footer to birdie the fourth, then got under par when his gently left-to-right breaking putt from 16 feet fell into the hole on No. 5.

Woods' playing partners couldn't keep up. Phil Mickelson shot a 75, Adam Scott had a 73 and both are at four over.

All in all, it really wasn't the kind of day that brought out a lot of smiles, caused hearts to flutter or scores to reach sonar levels. Instead of sunshine and birdies, the sky was dirty gray and foreboding. And after a relatively mild opening round on the greens, putts became an adventure.

Or maybe, as Trahan said, like a television game show.

"I don't know if you ever watched 'Price Is Right,' but that plinko game where they drop the little thing and it starts going back, that's what you feel like when you're standing over it, and that's on six-footers.

"You're kind of going, 'Well, if I bounce it off that bump, maybe it will bounce off that one and bounce back in the hole. So it's just tough."

Justin Rose wasn't in the mood to say anything nice about the greens, possibly because he shot 79-72 and has the weekend off after missing the cut.

"I have to say I think they are the worst greens I've played on in a U.S. Open."

Padraig Harrington was in the seventh group off the 10th tee in the morning and shot a four-under 67.

"They are getting very bobbly and the ball is moving quite a lot on them when it loses its pace," he said of the greens.

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