In the cold rain, in the growing darkness, on a wet and bumpy 18th green, Tiger Woods introduced himself to the 88th PGA Championship when a slippery, 18-foot, right-to-left breaking putt disappeared into the hole for a birdie that defined his day.
And, moments later, while Woods did a television interview, a grinning Phil Mickelson walked over and held an umbrella over the head of Woods, who smiled too.
As far as defining moments go, this one wasn’t so bad either.
It was a good day to take cover, because at the forest-like setting at Medinah Country Club, the woods are full of Woods. The four-under 68 that Woods carved out in Friday’s second round vaulted him to within one shot of the lead.
He is squarely in the hunt for another major, which would be the 12th of his career.
Woods is not there yet, not with all the company he has, plus the 36 holes remaining in the final major of the year.
It’s crowded at the top, with Henrik Stenson, Billy Andrade, Luke Donald and Tim Herron, each an accomplished veteran, but a group that is collectively 11 majors short of Woods.
That might not be the point right now, though. As Geoff Ogilvy proved at the U.S. Open, anything is possible at a major, right up to the 72nd hole, where hospitality tents and trees sometimes get in the way.
So far, it’s an all-out blitz at storied Medinah, which is getting pulverized. There were 61 players who shot under par Friday, and 26 of them produced scores in the 60s. Medinah not only has soft greens, but also a soft heart, as it turns out.
Herron shot a 67, Stenson and Donald turned in 68s and Andrade a 69 for 36-hole totals of eight-under 136. Woods is next at seven under, the same score as Ogilvy and Davis Love III.
But it is Woods who draws the most attention.
“I can promise you no one is scared ... on the leaderboard, I don’t think,” Ogilvy said.
There are 20 players within four shots of the leaders, but no one is getting more scrutiny than Woods, who conquered Royal Liverpool and won the British Open last month with the same game plan he’s employing at Medinah.
He may still be sorting out issues with his driver, but Woods hit the last five fairways and continued to plod along, playing for position, making no silly mistakes, the same method he used in Britain.
“I’m in good shape,” Woods said. “There’s a bunched leaderboard. You knew it was going to be that way with the soft greens, and that’s basically what it turned out to be.
“You’ve got to go out there and make some birdies here and there and try not to give anything back.”
Woods has one bogey so far, and it was on his first hole in the first round, after he drove into the rough.
Mickelson was not as consistent Friday, with four bogeys and five birdies. He birdied the last hole to end his round of 71, three shots behind Woods and four off the lead.
Michelson used one driver Friday, but that doesn’t look like his problem. He has played the par-three holes in four over.
“I’m obviously not striking the ball very well, [but] I’m only four back with two rounds to go.”
Herron, 36, said he knows who is in contention without looking at the scoreboard.
“It’s always interesting to see where Tiger is,” he said. “He’s kind of always there, you know.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Stenson is also there. He played the four par-five holes in even par, but was three under on the par threes, so he said it all worked out. And maybe the best news, almost as good as being tied for the lead, of course, is that he got it all done before it started drizzling in the afternoon.
Andrade was not so fortunate. Or maybe he was, if you consider the way he finished, knocking in a 20-foot putt for a birdie on the drippy 18th green.
Stenson, 30, was born in Gothenburg, Sweden, but lists his home in the United Arab Emirates. He’s a three-time winner on the European Tour, including the Qatar Masters this year, and was third at the Players Championship.
Even though he hasn’t had much of an impact on the PGA Tour, his world ranking is 17th and he’s known as a power hitter. Stenson is also known for an unusual practice technique when he swings with his eyes closed.
“I was a bit sort of blocked, just the impact of trying to get a better release, and just shut my eyes when I practice a little bit on the range,” he said. “It could be the thing that loosens up the knots a little bit.”
Andrade was the seventh alternate into the tournament but hasn’t played like it. The 42-year-old has had only one top-10 finish in 16 other PGA Championships and hasn’t won a PGA Tour event in six years.
Like most everyone else, Andrade took advantage of the receptive greens, which also let the players become more aggressive with their putting. Even though he turned pro in 1987, Andrade is still feeling frisky . . . sort of.
“I was walking out to the putting green and Henrik Stenson was coming in and I was like, wow, this kid, he could be my son. He looked so young. And then I was walking to the first tee and some guy said, ‘Hey, Billy, do it for the old guys.’ I thought it was funny.”
Woods ended his two-round sojourn with Mickelson and Ogilvy as his playing partners and gets Chris Riley today for the third round. Riley followed his opening round of 66 with a 72 Friday.
As for his own game, Woods said he’s hoping for the best.
“If you get a little hot, then you could shoot 65 or 64.”
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Second-round scores from the PGA Championship at Medinah, Ill. Par: 72 (36-36)
*--* Player 1st 2nd Total Par Henrik Stenson 68 68 136 -8 Billy Andrade 67 69 136 -8 Luke Donald 68 68 136 -8 Tim Herron 69 67 136 -8 Davis Love III 68 69 137 -7 Tiger Woods 69 68 137 -7 Geoff Ogilvy 69 68 137 -7
*--* David Toms 71 67 138 -6 Sergio Garcia 69 70 139 -5 Mike Weir 72 67 139 -5 Adam Scott 71 69 140 -4 Phil Mickelson 69 71 140 -4 Ernie Els 71 70 141 -3 Chris DiMarco 71 70 141 -3 Jim Furyk 70 72 142 -2 Corey Pavin 72 71 143 -1 Retief Goosen 70 73 143 -1 Vijay Singh 73 72 145 MC David Duval 73 72 145 MC John Daly 71 75 146 MC Fred Couples 71 76 147 MC Tom Lehman 77 71 148 MC