Tiger Woods is one back at Memorial after a 69


— It wasn’t merely allergies that were bothering Tiger Woods on Friday. An afternoon in the damp chill had golf’s top draw battling some serious congestion as darkness settled over Muirfield Village.

Not that he didn’t have reason to smile.

A three-under-par 69 propelled Woods within one stroke of leader Rory Sabbatini at the Memorial Tournament’s midway point, moving into weekend contention for the first time since he romped at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two months ago.

You know the old adage: Beware the sick golfer.

DUBLIN, Ohio — “The things that I’m supposed to be doing these past few tournaments, I was able to do,” said Woods, whose past three starts hadn’t seen him place any higher than 40th.

“This is the way I hit the ball at Bay Hill and the way I hit it at the end of last year. That’s what’s exciting about it.”

Woods is tied with Spencer Levin and first-round leader Scott Stallings at five under. He has a far more optimistic outlook than Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson, both of whom followed Phil Mickelson to an early exit.

McIlroy stumbled to a 79, his third consecutive missed cut since a playoff loss at the Wells Fargo Championship. Two weeks from defending his U.S. Open crown, he was unable to record a birdie all day and was undone by two double bogeys on his back nine.

“It just seems like every time I go out there, I make one or two big numbers and that sort of throws me,” said McIlroy, who hadn’t missed three straight cuts since his rookie European Tour season of 2008.

Watson, meantime, still appeared out of sorts despite his monthlong layoff to get refreshed after his post-Masters frenzy. He followed up his opening 75 with a 74, then told reporters a tale of being spooked when someone tried to tail him home early in the week.

“I kept driving around until they gave up,” he said.

Sabbatini, meantime, stayed under the radar until three birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine. That led to a second consecutive 69, reaching the tournament’s midway point at six-under 138.

“It was hard fought the whole way,” said Sabbatini, who had missed three straight cuts until last week’s four straight 71s at Colonial. “There was nothing easy out there. It played tough and showed its teeth pretty well.”

After Thursday’s hard-and-fast conditions, golfers faced a 180-degree change when a cold front brought thunderstorms and plunging temperatures. By early afternoon, the thermometer had dropped into the low 60s.

“When [the course] is firm and fast, it’s hard,” said Levin, who had a 72. “But then when it’s wet and rainy, it’s a different kind of hard.”

Jim Furyk (68) and Daniel Summerhays (71) were two shots off the pace, with former Masters champion Trevor Immelman among five golfers at three under.