The Open: Resurgent Tiger Woods move into third place

Tiger Woods was still on the golf course when Brandt Snedeker, safely ensconced in the clubhouse, was talking about his lead at the top of the leaderboard in this Open championship.But how significant a lead is it when the man leading the chasing pack is the resurgent former champion Tiger Woods? Like the invincible of old, Woods holed a bunker shot by the 18th green for his second successive round of 67 and a position in the field just four behind his fellow American. In a word, ominous.

This was the first time since Hoylake in 2006, an Open he owned from the start, that Woods has begun this championship with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. The funny thing was that his day seemed to be petering out by the time he reached the devilishly difficult closing holes here at Lytham, two of which he then birdied; 16 and 18. His reaction to holing from the sand was like a vision of his younger and dominant self, a throwback to when he was king. So, too, was the response of the galleries. Having Woods lurking on the leaderboard quickens the pulse, no question. This championship is all the better for having him back after last year’s absence – and back in contention.

“Making birdie on 16 was nice,” he said. “And then, man, I hit a lovely iron-shot in there at 18. The wind was supposed to be off the right but it just switched and it came off the left and I ended up pushing it maybe a yard too far and it ended up where it ended up. It wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t as hard (a bunker shot) as it may have looked. I was on the upslope, so I just threw it up there. I’m right in the mix. Overall, I’m very pleased at where I’m at.”

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He might have been installed as the pre-championship favourite but the bookmakers reported that business wasn’t exactly brisk on the Tiger front in the early part of the week. Yes, he has won three Claret Jugs. Yes, he has won three times this year already, but there’s also been the missed cuts and the mundane nature of his play in his other tournaments. Tiger was largely friendless in the betting markets. That’ll change now, though.

He’s steering it round Lytham, staying out of the worst of the trouble and building his momentum just as he used to do in the majors. “It’s just patience on a golf course like this,” he said. “I’m hitting the ball in the fairway and you just have to do that. You can’t control it out of the rough here. And obviously the pot bunkers you can’t do anything but come out sideways, so it’s demanding. You can take your chances but you’d better pull it off. The rough out there is unbelievable. Or else you can be conservative and play to different spots. So, yeah, you can hit drivers down there – and some guys did. Or you can be more conservative. It allows you to play whatever way you want.”

The Tiger way has been the cautious route. He used the driver only once in his second round and will be keeping it it in the bag if the weather forecast for Sunday is correct. They’re predicting 30mph winds, but the predictions have been so far off beam so far that you have to wonder if any of these players are listening anymore.

Two other Americans on the leaderboard, and not without a chance – Jason Dufner and Matt Kuchar – are certainly of a mind to take the forecast with a pinch of salt. Or as Dufner put it: “Pretty much throw it in the trash.” Dufner shot 66, Kuchar 67 and the pair of them are in a bunch at 4-under. Continuing a theme set so spectacularly by Snedeker, neither of them are what you might call links specialists, Dufner having missed the cut in his two stabs at it in 2010 and 2011 and Kuchar being cut in three of his six previous attempts with a best-placed finish in the other three of 27th.

“It’s an event I’d like to play well in,” said Dufner, who has already won twice on tour this year. “I’ve been disappointed with past performances, so it’s good heading into the weekend with a chance to win. There’s a lot of good Americans playing well right now, a lot of guys on top form, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see an American take this event.”

You know the world has turned when you hear somebody like the all-American Kuchar hoping for more inclement conditions to play in. He almost bemoaned the lack of the usual wind and rain and the kind of ferocious difficulty that is the Open trademark. “All of us would like to see more Open-like conditions. I think everybody would like to have a little bit more wind just to test us a little bit more out here. As the round went on the weather seemed to get nicer and nicer and the course became more playable. It’s soft out there. The forecasts I’ve seen so far have all been wrong so I don’t put a lot of stock in what’s coming (the predictions of 30mph winds on Sunday).”

What’s coming on the leaderboard? An American leads and more Americans are packed in behind him, five of them in the top dozen on this most British of golf courses. Snedeker was the marquee act in the second round, but the biggest roar was reserved for Woods and the bunker shot that moved him into the slipstream of the leaders, a happy place he hasn’t been in at this championship for far too long.