LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England (AP) — With a nifty shot out of the bunker and an emphatic pump of his clenched fist, Tiger Woods made one thing clear: He's right back in the hunt for a 15th major championship.
Now, he's got to show he can finish the job on the weekend, which used to be a mere formality.
After Brandt Snedeker romped to another bogey-free round, with Adam Scott right on his heels, Woods provided the most memorable moment of Friday's second round just as the light was beginning to fade at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
He set it up by dumping his approach at No. 18 into a greenside trap. Then, with everyone figuring he'd settle for no better than par, Woods swooped the ball over the lip of the bunker, up onto the green, where it bounced a couple of times and rolled right in the cup for a birdie.
Woods let out a scream and thrust his fist skyward, having closed within four strokes of Snedeker's 36-hole score heading to the weekend.
"I'm very pleased where I'm at," said Woods, who was 6-under 134 after two straights 67s. "We're at the halfway point and I'm right in the mix."
The third round began under sunny skies, with perhaps just enough wind to fly a kite on the shoreline of the Irish Sea. PGA champion Keegan Bradley took advantage of the calm conditions to shoot an early 2-under 68. Joost Luiten turned in a 69. The blustery conditions are supposed to arrive Sunday, which would make all those bunkers and the high grass even tougher to avoid and possibly allow others to get into the mix.
Then again, the forecast can't be trusted in these parts.
No matter the weather, what a weekend it could be — especially if, by chance, Woods and Scott should end up in the final group on Sunday.
Woods' longtime caddie, Steve Williams, now works for Scott. There's no love lost between two guys who used to be so close, until Woods' personal life fell apart, his game got off track and he fired the one who'd been on his bag most of his career.
Let's not forget Woods was in even better position just a month ago at the U.S. Open. Tied for the lead, he played in the last group on Saturday at Olympic, but a dismal 75 knocked him out of contention. He was never a threat in the final round, stretching the drought to four years since his last major championship in 2008.
Woods is feeling good about his chances at this claustrophobic course in northwestern England. He avoided the dreaded bunkers over his first 35 holes, and bailed himself out when he finally found the sand. He's missed only two fairways off the tee, showing time and time again he's willing to sacrifice distance for the sake of control. He's largely avoided the treacherous rough, knowing that's like assessing yourself a penalty.
"I figured I had a game plan that I thought would fit well on this golf course, and I figured I could execute it," Woods said. "I've done that so far. It's just patience on a golf course like this."
But he's still got some work to do.
Snedeker, who had never even made the cut in three previous Open appearances, breezed through two near-perfect rounds, nary a bogey on his card. He shot a 64 for a 130 total, equaling the major championship record for lowest score through 36 holes.
Up to now, his best run in a major came at the 2008 Masters, where he faded to a tie for third and broke down in tears when it was over.
Maybe he'll be smiling this time, posing with the claret jug.
"It wasn't an easy day that day at Augusta," Snedeker recalled. "I kind of know what pressure feels like. Obviously, it's going to be a lot more over the weekend, but I've got something to fall back on."
Scott was nearly as good over the first two days. He put up another dazzling round, a 67 leaving him just one stroke off the lead he held after an opening 64.
Like Snedeker, the Aussie is still chasing his first major title.
"Why not me?" Scott said. "I felt very confident coming in here."
Over two calm days, Snedeker became the first player to go bogey-free in the opening two rounds of a major since Woods won at St. Andrews in 2000. Even more amazing? Snedeker hasn't hit into any of the 206 bunkers in two days.
Scott didn't put much significance into his position at the halfway point.
"You look at the names that are five and six shots back, and it means even less," he said.
The biggest name was Woods, who'll find out if his record in the majors still means anything. This was the eighth time he has opened a major with two rounds in the 60s, and he went on to win on the seven previous occasions — including all three of his Open titles.
He was in the penultimate group Saturday with Thorbjorn Olesen, a 22-year-old Dane who won for the first time this year on the European Tour. He closed with two birdies, knowing that the last one would give him a 66 and a chance to play with Woods, his idol.
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