Tiger Woods closed out his second round with a 12-foot birdie putt at Muirfield on Friday to fuel his hopes of winning a fourth British Open crown and a 15th major title.
His level par round of 71 left him on two under for the tournament and in a share of the clubhouse lead, with Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson, halfway through the round.
Woods, whose last Open win came at Hoylake in 2006 and who last bagged a major at the Torrey Pines US Open of 2008, looked menacing as he had two birdies in the first five holes, to get to three under. But he failed to capitalise on that with bogeys at the eighth and 11th, his putter letting him down on both occasions.\
The world number one stayed at one under until the crowd-pleasing last-hole birdie, which he celebrated with a rapier-like flourish of his putter.
“I’m in a good spot. I’m tied for the clubhouse lead I think now with Henrik and Westie,” he said.
“These guys have to go out this afternoon and obviously play a golf course that’s quick and it’s drying out and with a different wind. So it will be tough out there.”
The sun was shining brightly on the famed East Lothian links once again, but with the greens having been watered overnight and a change in wind direction from east to west, the course was less of a fiery beast.
Still, with the wind starting to pick up in late morning, there was a chance for the early starters to take advantage of the favourable conditions.
Westwood, the English former world number one who has played in 61 majors and has yet to win one, could have been even more handily placed as he got to five under for the tournament after making six birdies in 12 holes.
That put him level with American overnight leader Zach Johnson, who had a mid-afternoon tee-off time.
Bogeys at 13, 14 and 18, stopped his charge, but he had still taken the joint lead in the clubhouse and worked his way back into championship contention.
“I feel very confident. The golf course is playing tough. You know sooner or later you’re going to drop a shot or two,” Westwood said.
“It just gets firmer as the day goes on and around the holes it gets shinier. You’re obviously not going to hit it to the flag as much as you would, so you get a lot of 30 to 40 foot putts.”
Sweden’s Stenson carded a second straight 70 to join Westwood and Woods at two under 140, with Scottish home hope Martin Laird a stroke further back after he finished on level par.
The Glasgow-born, but US-based Laird said he was aware of the groundswell of support from the home crowd, who last saw a Scot win The Open in 1999, when Paul Lawrie came back from 10 shots down to win at Carnoustie.
“I think it will help me more than hurt me. I probably have higher expectations for myself than everyone in the crowd,” he said.
“It’s not something I’m really worried about. You can only look at it as something that can help up you. They can pull you along. Even as I was struggling, you hear people shouting ‘come on’ and giving you support, and that’s only a good thing.”
Last year’s Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, who smashed a club in anger on Thursday, had the joint best round with Westwood among the early starters, coming in with a superb 68 to move to one over.
Two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington, who was left hanging on the cut fringe at six over, said that Muirfield was a tamer prospect on Friday than it had been the previous day.
“The conditions were a lot easier today. I don’t know if the course is playing easier but the greens are obviously a lot slower and holding a lot more. And it wasn’t as fiery,” he said.
Unlike Harrington, England’s former world number one Luke Donald knew that he could pack his bags and head for home right away after a 72 left him at 10 over for the tournament.
Australia’s Masters champion Adam Scott was safe for the weekend on one over after a 73, as was Ulsterman Graeme McDowell, who carded a 71 to stand at four over.
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