By Dave Shedloski
Pebble Beach, Calif. - Lying just five yards off the front of the par-5 sixth green in two at Pebble Beach Golf Links, Tiger Woods was sizing up a chip shot that was relatively straightforward, and certainly one he could convert for an eagle. It had no worse than birdie written all over it.
How he mucked it up for a dyspeptic par sums up this 110th U.S. Open thus far for the man who won this championship by 15 strokes 10 years ago on the same layout.
With a 1-over 72 on Friday, Woods stands at 4-over 146 after two tours of a course he torched a decade ago. Even with his struggles, Woods found himself only seven strokes behind leader Graeme McDowell. He's fortunate that there isn't a player in the field doing what he did to the field in 2000 when he seemed unstoppable.
These days, he seems to be stopping himself.
But he didn't appear disappointed. Perhaps that was because he made three birdies, which was three more than in Thursday's opening round when the course pitched a shutout against the No. 1 player in the world.
"Well, I'm right there. I'm right there in the championship," said Woods, 34, who trailed after 36 holes in six of his 14 major championship victories. "I just need to make a few more birdies, a few more putts on the weekend, and I'll be right there."
The Woods of a past and more potent vintage seemed to emerge early in the round when he finally put up a red number, chipping in for birdie from about 40 feet on the par-4 11th hole, his second of the day. But the momentum never followed, and he bogeyed the 12th. A birdie at 14 he wiped out with three bogeys in five holes, starting at the 17th, the last after a wild drive forced him to take an unplayable from knee-high rough left of the fairway on the short par-4 third.
Then came the missed opportunities, including the sixth. He didn't appear comfortable, yet he insists that he was pleased with Friday's effort.
"I feel good," Woods said.
"I just need to keep progressing and keep moving my way up the board. It's a long haul. The U.S. Open is not going to get easier as the week goes on - especially on the weekend. And from what I hear it's supposed to be overcast, so I'm sure there will be a few more birdies than we normally would see."
The question is, can Woods convert enough birdies to make a more serious bid? Only three previous times in his pro career has he had fewer red numbers on his scorecard at the mid-point of a tournament.
"I'm going to have to make a few more birdies," he admitted. "I think I only made, what, three in the first two days? And I'm going to have to make a few more over the weekend in order to win."
Indeed, he is. He has to make up for his more frequent errors. In 2000, in shooting 12 under par, Woods suffered only six bogeys all week. Already he has seven in this championship.
Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA Web sites.