Tiger Woods is halfway to his appointed goal of breaking a four-year majors drought and returning to the mountaintop of golf.
In getting there, Woods has also offered a preview of what things might be like as he approaches the latter stage of his career. He shares the lead at the U.S. Open after two rounds, and the only people who might be standing in his way are a couple of 40-somethings, Jim Furyk and David Toms, looking for one last hurrah.
Woods is still 31/2 years short of 40, but as it pertains to conquering the Olympic Club -- even firmer, faster and more fickle Friday than it was during Thursday's opening round -- he's ratcheted up the plodder mentality of his older counterparts in his attempt to capture his 15th major.
Good grief, Woods even used the word himself after finishing off an even-par 70 that put him at 1 under for the tournament along with Furyk and Toms.
"This tournament you just keep plodding along," Woods said. "This is a different tournament. You have to stay patient, and you're just playing for pars."
Tiger Woods, Old Man Par. Just knock it up the middle with a couple of irons, straight and true, then try to two-putt. What next, a woolen beret with a fluff ball on top?
No, he's not quite there yet, but there's no question the rejuvenated Woods is a different animal -- he's sacrificing power for precision, and machismo for methodical game-planning. In fact, if Woods uses the "follow the game
On that count, Woods admitted he's taken several pages of strategy from Furyk, his longtime U.S. Ryder Cup teammate and the man he'll be paired with for Saturday's third round.
"I've always admired how he maneuvered his way around the golf course," Woods said of Furyk. "That's one of the reasons we were such great partners together in the Cups is that we think alike. I just hit the ball farther. But we maneuver ourselves around the golf course the same way."
For the 42-year-old Furyk, who hasn't won a major since the 2003 U.S. Open but has contended in a bunch, the game plan is simple.
"Keeping the ball in the fairway is of utmost importance," he said after shooting a 1-under 69 with three birdies and just two bogeys.
Toms is 45 with one major victory that came 11 years ago (2001 PGA Championship). But he's cut from the same cloth of calculated composure and restraint. It showed in his score -- two birdies, two bogeys, a minimum of trouble and an even-par 70 on Friday.
"I missed a couple of fairways here and there, but for the most part I was in play," Toms said. "I hit some good shots from the rough controlling my distance, which is the key to making pars when you don't hit the great tee shot. So I did that and just hit the middle of the greens all day long."
Woods did have his moments of potential meltdown. He had a three-hole string of bogeys on the fifth, sixth and seventh, the last one leaving him muttering under his breath. But he responded with terrific par at No. 8, scored birdies on 10 and 13, then played par out.
Earlier, Woods had surged to the lead after three holes when first-round leader Michael Thompson stumbled badly out of the gate. But when Woods hit his three-hole bump in the road, he and the rest of the field temporarily surrendered the top spot to a 17-year-old amateur who just completed his junior year at Santa Margarita High-Rancho Santa Margarita in Orange County, Beau Hossler.
Hossler stunned the field by taking sole possession of the lead 11 holes into his second round. He played the first 10 without a bogey and threw in a birdie at the par-5 17th to gain a share of the lead with Furyk. He then took over first place at 2 under when he sank a snaking 8-foot birdie putt on the first hole, a 520-yard par-4 beast that had only yielded 11 birdies through the first two days.
But then disaster struck for the kid. Hossler bogeyed the second hole, double bogeyed the fourth when he drove left next to a tree and then bogeyed the fifth and sixth holes, as well. The young amateur, who also played in the Open last year at Congressional (Md.), rallied with a chip-in birdie at the short par-4 seventh before finishing his round with a bogey on the par-3 eighth and a second-round score of 73, good enough for a tie for 12th at 3 over.
Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, who won the 2010 Open at Pebble Beach, made an early run at the lead and was one of four players tied at 1 over after a second-round 72. The other three two strokes back are relative unknowns -- 23-year-old American John Peterson, Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts and Thompson, who salvaged a 75 after his 3-over start after four holes.
Several players had to sweat out afternoon play only to learn they missed the cut. One of those was inspirational qualifier Casey Martin, who bogeyed his final hole to shoot 75 after an opening-round 74. He finished 9 over for the tournament, which was one shot off the cut line of the top 60 players and ties. Meeting the same fate were this year's Masters champion Bubba Watson, 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen and young up-and-comers Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.
Last year's U.S. Open champion, Rory McIlroy, also missed the cut, the first defending champion to do so since Angel Cabrera in 2008. McIlroy shot a 3-over 73 to go with an opening 77 and was at plus 10. That was a stroke better than Englishman Luke Donald, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, who shot a 2-over 72 after opening with a 79. He's heading home, too.
Phil Mickelson, on the other hand, rallied from a first-round 76 and shot 1-over 71, rolling in a 10-foot birdie on the par-4 18th hole to finish at 7 over.
Rory McIlroy is just one of the big names to miss the cut. Page 6
Phil Mickelson hasn't been sharp but makes cut. Page 6
Teenager is thrilled to briefly hold the lead. Page 7
Saturday: noon-7 p.m., NBC
Sunday: noon-7 p.m., NBC
Monday: If an 18-hole playoff is needed, 9-11 a.m., ESPN; 11 a.m.-conclusion, NBC
scan: Use your smartphone to access a slideshow from Round 2, or go to mercurynews.com/sports