Woods' 64 puts Ryder Cup show in perspective

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The Independent Online

After lording it up at the Ryder Cup last week, normal servitude was resumed for Europe's golfers here yesterday as Tiger Woods opened up a five-shot lead in the Amex Championship. Yes, the Watford gap has always been a grim reality checkpoint.

That unofficial border is, of course, some 50 miles north of London's great commuter town that is such an unlikely host for this World Golf Championship event, although Woods has been in the sort of mood these last few days where he has looked capable of moving anything ... heaven, earth, Hertfordshire.

The world No 1's second-round 64 surely made his 10th individual WGC title (out of 15), not to mention his sixth strokeplay win on the bounce, a formality. His K Club team-mates Jim Furyk and Stewart Cink are leading the charge along with David Howell; a truth that made it all even harder to bear for the home contingent. Remember when Tiger looked like a pussycat and the rest of the American side like church mice? No, those like Howell and Padraig Harrington were having difficulty casting their minds back an entire week as well.

At least Howell had more reason than most not to feel inferior, even if their 10-under and nine-under totals leave them with the barest sniff of what would be their biggest victory. Of Ian Woosnam's other heroes, Lee Westwood is 10 behind the leader, Colin Montgomerie is 12, Sergio Garcia is 15 and Paul Casey an eye-straining 22 shots. From matchplay to mismatchplay in one fell swoop, then. And the bad news is that it is likely to get even worse. "I've got to continue making birdies," promised Woods. "The winning score is not going to be 15-under."

Woods should be believed as more than anyone he knows what it takes to win - and where to find what it takes. His afternoon yesterday was a case in point. By his seventh hole (the 16th) the overnight pacesetter noticed on the course leaderboards that Furyk had caught him after a fleet-footed start in the wet conditions.

So what does Woods do? Consolidate? Panic? Nah. "At the time Jim was seven-under for his round through 13 holes so I figured if I could shoot the same, he wouldn't gain the ground," he said. "I was able to do that."

Furyk, meanwhile, was not, bogeying the sixth (his 15th) for a 65. Just like he had on Thursday, Woods accelerated most devastatingly on the 18th (his ninth) when reducing the 567-yard par-five to wood, fairway wood, putt to record his second consecutive eagle there. Immediately, the divide was forged and it kept on growing, despite some valiant attempts to breach it.

Howell's second successive 66 gives him every chance of overhauling the obviously exhausted Casey in the race for the Order of Merit. The second prize here is a staggering £395,000 and with his money list deficit standing at £115,000, Howell could establish a winning lead.

The most enthralling chase may well be Woods's as he goes after a whole book of records. The man himself declared: "Who cares what I shoot as long as I get the win? If I shoot 50-under or 11-under, I don't really care." But even the most gullible might choke while trying to swallow that piece of humility.

For despite wanting to better his incredible ratio of having led after the second round 29 times and winning 23 of them, Woods will also be desperate to rewrite his own WGC mark of 25-under. Then there is the American Tour's lowest total of 31-under and the European Tour's 29-under to aim for. Both are held by Ernie Els and both, as the pursuer pointed out, are "mighty fine scores". The 30-year-old declined to say they were ungettable, though. Unlike the other 61 professionals here, nothing is out of sight. "You would think he might lose his motivation," sighed Harrington. Think again, Padraig.

AMERICAN EXPRESS CHAMPIONSHIP (Watford) Leading second-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 127 T Woods (US) 63 64. 132 J Furyk (US) 67 65; D Howell 66 66; S Cink (US) 65 67. 133 P Harrington 64 69. 134 B Quigley (US) 70 64. 135 H Stenson (Swe) 68 67; E Els (SA) 65 70; I Poulter 64 71; A Scott (Aus) 67 68. 136 T Immelman (SA) 68 68; S Dyson 67 69; N O'Hern (Aus) 67 69; B Wetterich (US) 70 66.