He is the ultimate in golfing menace, the man you don't want to see when the audience screams “he's behind you.” Should the final pairing of Brandt Snedeker and Adam Scott dare to look over their shoulders, the cast iron features of Tiger Woods will be staring right back at them. The order is tall for the former world No 1, but not as forbidding as it was before he holed out of a bunker at the last to cut the deficit to four.
What a moment that was; Woods ripping a shot from yesteryear and firing off a couple of rounds with that pump-action fist to celebrate. The gallery packed around the 18th green augmented the sense of theatre with a reciprocal roar. Flash bulbs bathed the scene in a fluorescent glow. Woods was riding that old carousel into the weekend on six-under par, his 67 securing a place in the penultimate group this afternoon alongside Danish novice Thorbjorn Oleson. How much sleep did he get last night?
"We're at the halfway point and I'm right there in the mix. With the weather that's forecast on Sunday and tomorrow, it's going to be a good weekend," Woods said, which roughly translates as, "watch out, I'm coming to get you." Or at least that is the message the Woods legend conveys. We are about to undergo a new examination of the Tiger question: Is he back? His three PGA Tour victories offer plausible support to that view but not until he has snared a big one will the doubters be convinced.
Snedeker, who shot a 64 to go 10 under par, and Scott, nine under after a 67, are chasing their first major championships, Woods his 15th. The pursuit is almost as compelling as that of Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France. For two days Snedeker has had this game sussed. Aim for the middle of the green and hole everything. Why complicate a tricky business? The rudimentary approach was perhaps understandable given his advance to the weekend was his first in four attempts at the Open.
It helps when you hole out from 45-feet, as he did at the sixth after a naff hook off the tee, and from 25-feet and in thereafter. Once he had jump started his round Snedeker's progress followed the trajectory of your average rocket.
This was the first time since Woods 12 years ago that anybody has negotiated the opening 36 holes of a major without dropping a shot. Since Snedeker has set fire to the quiet American script let's see how he manages golf under the microscope.
"Playing at 3:30pm yesterday was definitely under the radar. There weren't a lot of people out there when I was finishing," he said. "Today I felt the galleries building and TV cameras getting more people inside the ropes and everything. That's great. I enjoy that. If you want to be the best player in the world or be one of the best players in the world, you're going to have to deal with that and get used to it."
Scott was that man yesterday. He played nicely but with nothing like the birdie-eating rapaciousness of his opening round. Out in level par, Scott made his move at the tenth and added a second birdie at the 11th. Thereafter it was level-pegging all the way to the last, which he birdied for a round of 67. Scott did not have the afternoon quite to himself. The stroke average when Woods went to the first tee was 72.757. Forget the pyrotechnics of Snedeker Woods was looking at a day of full-on attrition.
Nicolas Colsaerts went from five under back to par in seven holes. Rory McIlroy spread his misery evenly, giving back two shots over the front nine and three on the back. Anything slightly off line was punished. And anything in a bunker was fatal. McIlroy was in five, dropping at least one shot at each visit and two at the ninth, where he left his first attempt in the sand. And this contribution from a player said by Snedeker to have more talent in his fingernail than he had in his whole body. Funny old game.
Woods almost hit the flag at the par-3 opening hole. The ball came to rest ten feet from the pin. The putt slid by. Woods held his stroke, grimaced slightly, parcelled his disappointment and moved on. The next opportunity came at the fourth and from a similar distance. No mistake this time. Woods was in the red numbers for his round. The mind drifted back to the US Open when a circumspect Woods steered his way around Olympic Club without taking in water when others in the world's top ten disappeared.
He went 10 holes before finding trouble. Twice in the rough, he failed to make the green in regulation on the par-five 11th and paid with a six. Retribution came at the 16th and the last. Graeme McDowell, who is tied fifth in a group that includes Paul Lawrie, Matt Kuchar and Jason Duffner, was in the group ahead of Woods and pledged to reprise his weekend at the US Open, where he had a putt at the 72nd hole to force a play-off.
"Contending is a habit. You learn a lot about yourself when you're in contention. Olympic reinforced to me that my attitude is good under pressure. I don't always win. No-one always wins. But I know that I can control myself when I'm in the mix. It is going to be an interesting weekend. No-one on that leaderboard scares me."
Lee Westwood survived after a round of 70 left him on the cut mark on three over par. The sun is forecast to appear today and the wind to blow for the first time this week, and hardest in the afternoon. Too late to spare Darren Clarke, whose reign as Open champion ended with a bogey at the last for a round of 71, seven over par.
Shot, shank and sound of the day
Shot of the day
Greg Owen stunned the crowd on the 18th with his second shot, producing a perfectly weighted 92-yard chip on to the green which span back to slot home smartly.
Shank of the day
Rory McIlroy endured a day of overhit and misjudged shots, encapsulated in a wild tee shot on No 4 which almost saw Toshinori Muto's caddie become his second headshot victim.
Sound of the day
The BBC's coverage was interrupted by Peter Alliss's bizarre, predatorial growl as he pored over slow-motion footage of Brandt Snedeker sinking a fifth birdie in seven holes.
The 141st Open Golf Championship Royal Lytham & St Annes GC, Lytham St Annes, Lancashire: Second round (GB & Irl unless stated, par 70):
130 B Snedeker (US) 66 64
131 A Scott (Aus) 64 67
134 T Woods (US) 67 67
135 T Olesen (Den) 69 66
136 T Aiken (SA) 68 68; J Dufner (US) 70 66; G McDowell 67 69; P Lawrie 65 71; M Kuchar (US) 69 67
137 E Els (SA) 67 70
138 S Stricker (US) 67 71; S Alker (Aus) 69 69; L Donald 70 68; J Morrison 68 70
139 Z Johnson (US) 65 74; K Stanley (US) 70 69; G Chalmers (Aus) 71 68; T Muto (Japan) 67 72; S Dyson 72 67; S Khan 70 69; P Hanson (Swe) 67 72; B Haas (US) 71 68; M Calcavecchia (US) 71 68; T Bjorn (Den) 70 69; A Romero (Arg) 70 69; M Laird 70 69; C Pettersson (Swe) 71 68; 140 G Mulroy (SA) 71 69; R Goosen (SA) 70 70; B Watson (US) 67 73; G Ogilvy (Aus) 72 68; L Oosthuizen (SA) 72 68; T Jaidee (Thai) 69 71; T Potter; Jr. (US) 69 71; D Whitnell 71 69; M Angel Jimenez (Sp) 71 69; J Donaldson 68 72; I Poulter 71 69; A Lahiri (India) 68 72
141 N Watney (US) 71 70; J Milkha Singh (India) 70 71; F Molinari (It) 69 72; J Senden (Aus) 70 71; L Slattery 69 72; D Johnson (US) 73 68; H Mahan (US) 70 71; B Estes (US) 69 72; W Bennett 71 70; Y Fujimoto (Japan) 71 70; R Cabrera Bello (Sp) 70 71
142 J Hicks (US) 68 74; N Colsaerts (Bel) 65 77; B Grace (SA) 73 69; G Owen 71 71; R Echenique (Arg) 73 69; M Baldwin 69 73; G Fernandez-Castano (Sp) 71 71; H English (US) 71 71; A Baddeley (Aus) 71 71; V Singh (Fji) 70 72; R McIlroy 67 75; A Noren (Swe) 71 71; F Jacobson (Swe) 69 73; J Furyk (US) 72 70; T Matteson (US) 70 72; R Sterne (SA) 69 73; P Harrington 70 72
143 A Da Silva (Br) 69 74; R Fisher 72 71; J Luiten (Neth) 73 70; G Woodland (US) 73 70; C Howell III (US) 72 71; P Larrazabal (Sp) 73 70; J Daly (US) 72 71; C Campbell (US) 73 70; J Pagunsan (Phil) 71 72; R Fowler (US) 71 72; L Westwood 73 70; T Watson (US) 71 72; B Jones (Aus) 69 74; K Bradley (US) 71 72; Sang-moon Bae (S Kor) 72 71; K J Choi (S Kor) 70 73.
The following selected players failed to make the cut
144 K Oda (Japan) 72 72; A Hansen (Den) 68 76; J Rose 74 70; M Leishman (Aus) 69 75; Y.E. Yang (S Kor) 74 70; M Fraser (Aus) 71 73; A Townsend (Aus) 70 74; R Ramsay 71 73; C Schwartzel (SA) 69 75; S Garcia (Sp) 72 72; 145 S Cink (US) 72 73; D Duval (US) 74 71; T Lehman (US) 73 72; G Havret (Fr) 73 72; 147 D Chopra (Swe) 73 74; M Thompson (US) 74 73; R Allenby (Aus) 75 72; D Clarke 76 71; 151 P Mickelson (US) 73 78; P Casey 72 79