ARDMORE, Pa. — While not exactly backed into a corner when he left Merion Golf Club Thursday night at 2 over par, Tiger Woods needed to shoot a decent number Friday over 26 holes to feel good about his chances at the 113th US Open.
He did, so he does.
Paired with Rory McIlroy (No. 2) and Adam Scott (No. 3), Woods brought the world’s No. 1 ranking into a buzz-worthy threesome the first two days, and was predictably entertaining. Woods cleaned up his weather-delayed first round bright and early by playing his final eight holes in 1 over par, took a brief break, then shot an even-par 70 in the second round to finish 36 holes at 3 over.
With Merion inflicting pain on the field, that two-round total of 143 kept getting better by the minute. When play was called, Woods and everyone else at 3 over — including McIlroy — were tied for 17th.
How about some drama? Conjuring up images of the last time he won a major championship — 2008 at Torrey Pines — Woods is battling an injury on top of every other obstacle offered at a US Open. He acknowledged hurting his left elbow last month at the Players Championship, so all the wincing and arm shaking we’ve seen from him the first two days, mostly after hitting shots out of the heavy rough, finally has medical confirmation.
He was in no mood to discuss it. (How did you get hurt? “Playing golf.” Where? “Players.” When? “One of the rounds.”) Instead, Woods was focused on one of the better second rounds during a day that he needed it.
“I played really well,” Woods said. “Maybe I could have gotten one or two more out of it, but it was a pretty good day.”
McIlroy felt the same way after also shooting a second-round 70. He made three bogeys over his final seven holes of the first round, but was much sharper after receiving his second-round scorecard.
“I’m very happy. Right in there for the weekend. I don’t think I’ll be too far away by the end of the day,” said McIlroy, the 2011 US Open winner. “In a nice position going into the last two days.”
Both Woods and McIlroy scoffed at the notion that Merion would be carved up because rain has turned the short course soft and vulnerable. There was pretournament talk that McIlroy’s 72-hole US Open scoring record could fall, as could the single-round best score in any major championship, 63.
Nonsense, according to the two top players in the world rankings.
“I didn’t hear any of the golfers saying that. It was you guys [media] saying it was going to be scoreable. So you must be very good golfers,” said McIlroy, a proud member of the major-63 club, having shot that in the first round of the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews. “There were people saying 63, 64 . . . that was never going to happen. If you don’t hit the fairways here, you’re not going to score. If you do hit the fairways, it’s still a big challenge from there.”
Said Woods: “Unless you played practice rounds out here and you’ve seen the golf course, you don’t realize how difficult it is.”
Scott, the Masters champion, was 3 under when play was called Thursday night. He lost whatever mojo he had, giving five shots back on his final seven holes in a first-round 72, then making four straight bogeys in a second-round 75. He’ll make the cut at 7 over, but is well off the pace, toughening the challenge of winning back-to-back majors.
“I got off on the wrong foot and just struggled to find my rhythm all day,” Scott said. “I was a little disappointed with the way I played today.”
Not Woods, who will now attempt to do something that’s eluded him. He’s never won a tournament after having an over-par score through 36 holes.
That said, does he fancy his chances?