- Open Championship
Tiger confident two-iron will provide sting in the tailAlex Dimond at Royal Lytham & St Annes July 20, 2012
Prediction time: If Tiger Woods adds two more rounds of 67 over the weekend (to go with the two he has already put together), he will lift the Claret Jug for the fourth time on Sunday evening.
That is not a slight against Adam Scott and Brandt Snedeker, the two current front-runners, who go into the weekend with a three and four-shot lead respectively over the lurking Woods.
That is simply an assessment that, with 30mph winds predicted for Sunday afternoon, a 12-under par total will prove good enough to get the job done.
"Overall I'm very pleased at where I'm at," was Woods' considered assessment of his six-under par performance. "We're at the halfway point and I'm right there in the mix. With the weather that's forecasted on Sunday and tomorrow, it's going to be a good weekend."
Woods wants the wind to blow, sorting the men from the boys, but he is not exactly going to rely on the prognostications that the gusts will come: "They haven't got the forecast right yet, so we'll see."
Woods did nothing outstandingly on Friday - he lent heavily on his stock two-iron 'stinger' off the tee to keep out of trouble, and played conservatively from there - but he picked up shots where he could and, a mistake at the par-five 11th apart (where, ironically, his choice of a two-iron off the tee did not pay off), ensured he remained in touch with the runaway leaders.
Saturday (where the blunt, and worryingly confident, forecast is "dry with sunny spells") will demand more of the same, setting up a Sunday finale where the weather may or may not prove the biggest factor.
"I'm hitting the ball in the fairway, and that's the thing around this golf course, you just have to do that," Woods said. "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 or be conservative and play to different spots. It's about commitment because most of the holes are on angles and the bunkers are staggered. 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."
Woods said prior to the tournament that avoiding Lytham's penalising bunkers would be key. To date he has found the sand just once - greenside at the 18th on Friday, where he holed out for an unexpected birdie.
A combination of that precision, and that luck, would be very welcome over the remainder of the tournament.
"It wasn't as hard as it may have looked," was Tiger's recollection of his final shot - one that undoubtedly brought the biggest roar of the day out on the course. "Because I was on the upslope I could take out that steepness coming off the bunker and land the ball on the flat. So just threw it up there, and I played about a cup outside the left and it landed on my spot and rolled to the right."
It was that shot that brought Woods within four shots of Snedeker's impressive 36-hole lead, and ensured he will be in the penultimate group for Saturday's third round - along with the emerging young Dane Thorbjorn Olesen (a winner on the European Tour already in 2012), who is as likely to swim as sink against a wave of attention he is unlikely to have experienced before.
Woods knows as well as anyone that holding the halfway lead in a major is no guarantee of victory - at the US Open last month, he held that exact position before falling away alarmingly - and the two men in the spotlight this time around have been wise in not making grand assertions about their chances.
"It was pretty cool to see your name atop a major leaderboard at any time, let alone at a British Open," Snedeker noted. "It's a great feeling, a great experience - but it gets you a whole lot of nothing."
Scott concurred: "I think you look at the names that are five and six shots back and it means even less. It's a world-class leaderboard, stacked up a few shots back, and I think no matter what the conditions are tomorrow, one of those guys is going to have a good day and make up ground.
"So we certainly have our work cut out, Brandt and myself, to stay ahead of that pack."
- Tiger Woods
Woods, inevitably, is going to be weighing on their minds most of all. They will have to watch him putt out at almost every hole as they progress through their own rounds on Saturday, so will have little chance of avoiding constant updates on his progress. If he goes on one of his infamous charges, the atmosphere around the course will make it difficult for them to remain composed.
The 14-time major champion has made a career of creating that sort of pressure-filled environment, and then exerting it in the direction of his opponents, even if in recent times his swing has not quite enabled him to hold up his end of the bargain. This week, however, he has a defined strategy - one that begins with his two-iron, and (hopefully) ends with victory - and so far he is sticking to it.
If he can continue to do that over the rest of the tournament, surely he will not be too far away at the end.
"I figured I had [found] a game plan that I thought would fit well on this golf course, and I figured I could execute it. And I've done that so far," Woods noted.
"[On Saturday] I'll just do what I do."