BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — There’s no running away from Tiger Woods, especially when he’s the host of the tournament.
The world’s top golfer was 11 strokes off the lead at one point Friday and flirted with missing the cut before a birdie-birdie-birdie finish. Yet the galleries followed him with a passion, thanking him for choosing the Washington area to stage an event with his name on it.
The other golfers paid attention, too. They know that as long as Woods is in the field, he can win. He finished with a second-round 66 — tying for best round of the day — and was six strokes off the lead at the midpoint of the AT&T National.
“He does it all the time,” said Billy Andrade, who was tied for third after back-to-back 68s. “He’s obviously the best, and he always comes back. He’s always there even when you don’t think he’s there. He’s around, and he’s going to be lurking again. He’ll be right there at the end.”
The co-leaders were Stuart Appleby and K.J. Choi, who somewhat tamed the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club with scores of 66 and 67 in the first two rounds. Craig Kanada, Robert Garrigus and Andrade were three shots off the pace at 4-under 136.
“You can look at it one way or the other and say, ‘Well, Tiger Woods is chasing somebody or chasing us down or chasing me down,”‘ Appleby said. “Or you can turn around and go, ‘Well, I expected him to and that’s just the way it is’ — and that makes you concentrate more on your own game.”
For Woods, the turnaround from a miserable 73 on Thursday was stark. He made only two bogeys instead of seven. He needed only 25 putts instead of 34. He didn’t have a single three-putt. He made six putts longer than 8 feet — including a 22-footer at No. 12 — after missing everything from 8 feet and beyond the day before.
His secret? He put some lead tape on his putter, forcing him to put more oomph in his stroke after leaving so many putts short well short of the hole in his first round.
“Made it a little bit heavier,” Woods said, “because the greens were a touch on the slow side.”
The putter was in the bag, though, when Woods was in trouble at the long par-4 sixth, a hole that plays as a par 5 for the club’s members. He had to lay up after putting his tee shot in the heavy rough, then botched his third shot by hitting the ball over the green.
Then, standing at the bottom of a steep slope, he bailed himself out with a flop shot to 6 feet and got away with a bogey.
“The flop shot was actually just pure luck,” he said. “I was just trying to get it on the green and it just happened to stay up on the top shelf. I didn’t want to have that go to waste by missing a makable putt, and I was grinding pretty hard on that putt to make it. Knocked it in — and birdied the last three.”
At the final hole, the gallery got the payoff it had been wanting. After two days of stone-faced club-tossing over bad shots, Woods waved to the crowd with a nod of satisfaction after his 14-foot birdie putt.
“I was just trying to get myself back in the tournament. I didn’t know what the cut was going to be,” Woods said. “I was just trying to get to even par, 1-under par.”
The course was expected to play tougher over the weekend as the temperature settled into the 90s, firming up the fairways and greens. It was already tough enough for top-five players Phil Mickelson (147) and Adam Scott (148), both on the wrong side of the 4-over 144 cut line.
Mickelson, coming off a layoff due to a wrist injury, was doomed by a 7 at the par-5 16th, where he had to call in a rules official after back-to-back shots: one that landed against a tree and a chain-link fence, and another that landed by a golf cart tire. Carts were aplenty on the hole as part of the Secret Service contingent following Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“Guys have won majors after missing the cut,” Mickelson said. “You can find it overnight, but I knew that coming in here I was a little rusty.”
Divots: Woods has seven career victories when trailing by six strokes or more after 36 holes. … Mickelson has missed back-to-back cuts for the first time since 2002. He also withdrew from last month’s Memorial, which means he has failed to play the weekend for three straight tournaments for the first time since 1995. … Shaun Micheel withdrew after the ninth hole. He had surgery on his right foot several years ago and aggravated the injury Friday. … Mike Weir also shot a 66 Friday and is five shots off the lead.