TULSA, Okla. — A determined bunch of 155 of the best golfers in the world scratched and clawed their way around slippery Southern Hills in the 89th PGA Championship on Friday, and then there was Tiger Woods, who laid into the course as if he were playing the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
Woods displayed the control he found at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last weekend, where he blew away the field like he did in his prime in 2000-01. He made eight birdies and one bogey at Southern Hills, carding a 63 to tie the course record and move to six under, two shots ahead of Scott Verplank.
Woods's round could have been even better had his birdie putt not gone in and then out of the 18th hole. A 62 would have broken the record for lowest round in a major championship; instead he tied the mark.
"I thought I made it," Woods said of the putt. "It would have been nice to have gotten a record and got a three-shot lead going into the weekend."
Woods is 7-0 when he's held the lead halfway through a major, and he has converted 27 times in 33 chances overall on the PGA Tour as the 36-hole leader or co-leader. Of the six majors held at Southern Hills, the 36-hole leader has won every time.
Still, many of the players on Friday evening were not quite ready to concede the trophy to the world's No. 1 player.
"It's pretty close to being over, probably," said Steve Stricker, who birdied his final hole, the par-4 9th, to make the cut on the number at five over. "What's he got, a two-shot lead? But Scott Verplank is right there. He drives it straight and he'll wear you out, so it'll be interesting."
Jim Furyk, who was six over and missed the cut, said: "I'm not going to jinx anybody. He's the No. 1 player in the world and he's got the lead, but it's never over 'til it's over. At least that's what Yogi said."
Verplank, 43, has won five times on Tour, most recently at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship earlier this season. He has an underwhelming record in the majors, with his best career finish a tie for seventh in the 2001 PGA and another tie for seventh at the 2004 British Open. He has just one top-10 finish in the Masters and one in the U.S. Open, but he is nonetheless a highly respected competitor.
Stephen Ames and Geoff Ogilvy are three under, three behind Woods. Ames shot 69 Friday, Ogilvy 68. Woody Austin shot an even-par 70 and was another shot back at two under, while a handful of big names needed to make a major move Saturday.
Ernie Els and Adam Scott shot 68 to get back to level par, while Phil Mickelson had a 69 and was two over, tied with the British Open champion, Padraig Harrington, eight shots off the lead. Retief Goosen, the winner of the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, is one over, seven back, after a 71.
It was another scorching hot day on the course, with spectators and even Niclas Fasth (one under after a 68 Friday) cooling themselves off at the misting fans placed around Southern Hills. Woods seemed impervious to the heat, and his game seemed impervious to a difficult course. Southern Hills played to a 72.833 scoring average Friday.
"I hit the ball really well and there was a nice little stretch there at 9, 10, 11 where I hit some really good shots," Woods said. "And I just felt that, you know, all day I was in control of my shots, and I was controlling my trajectory."
"He putted the ball beautifully today," said Barry Williams, who caddied for Bob Tway, one of Woods's playing partners Thursday and Friday. "The only shot that he missed was the tee shot on two. He pulled it into the rough and had to hit a low recovery under the trees that just chased up there and went way to the back of the green. The pin was in the front, and he had like 65 feet coming back over a mound, and he hit a putt with just the best speed you've ever seen. He'd tell you he missed the tee shot on seven, he hit it a little more left than he wanted and it took a bad kick into the rough."
Woods hit nine of 14 fairways (compared to 10 in the first round) and 13 greens (up from 10 Thursday).
"He's very good at plodding along, plotting his way around the course," said Rich Beem, the 2002 PGA champion, who played with Woods on Thursday and Friday and missed the cut by a stroke. "The one good thing about this golf course for Tiger is he doesn't have to hit driver very often. He can hit 4- or 5-iron, and [expletive], he isn't going to miss the fairway with a 4- or a 5-iron."
But one of the hardest things in golf is to follow a very low round with another low round, and most of the players and caddies were eager to see how Verplank, Ogilvy and the others would respond to the challenge of catching Woods this weekend.
"Nothing's over," Beem said. "Scott Verplank is a hell of a player, Geoff Ogilvy is a hell of a player. Tiger's certainly playing very good golf right now, but if he has a bad day with the putter …"
"Scotty V. is not going to back down," said Tom Pernice, Jr., who missed the cut by two strokes. "It'll be a lot closer than people think."
"I don't think it's over," said John Wood, caddie for Hunter Mahan, who made the cut at four over. "Scott Verplank is tough as nails, and Ogilvy is a major champion. If Tiger can shoot 63, then these other people can, too. It can be done."
"It ain't never over," said Boo Weekley, who followed his opening 76 with a 69 Friday to make the cut on the number at five over. "I ain't heard no fat lady singin'. I'm about 75% sure it's over, though, if you wanna put some money on it."