It was early in the morning, but then timing is no barrier to Tiger Woods' ability to produce a piece of magic. Woods birdied the 18th hole at the postponed end of his second round to move within two of the lead in the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine National but it was no ordinary birdie.
The world No 1 was one of 41 players who had to complete their second rounds yesterday morning after a thunderstorm interrupted play on Friday evening with Fred Funk holding a one-stroke lead. Funk and Justin Rose were also among the group who had to come back in the morning and then suffer a further delay.
Such was the storm that raged for most of the night in the Minneapolis area that the greenkeeping staff were still trying to prepare the course when play was due to resume at 7.30am local time. After three inches of rain fell on the course overnight the practice range was still a lake and the restart was pushed back a further hour and three-quarters.
Woods was up at 5am and was thoroughly prepared by the time he resumed at the 17th hole. After a par three there, he then hooked his drive into a bunker on the last. The ball was near the edge of the sand and was below his feet. Needing to hit a draw over some trees into a wind which was blowing strongly from left to right he hit a superb three iron from 211 yards to within 12 feet of the cup.
"I absolutely flushed it," Woods said. "The one thing I was guarding against was losing it to the right in the grandstand. It's got to rank up there with the best shots I've ever hit, given the lie and the conditions and I holed the putt."
The only shot Woods could immediately recall to match it was a fairway bunker shot over water to win the Canadian Open two years ago. As Ernie Els, who finished at one under, shook hands with Woods at the end of their rounds he said just one word: "Unbelievable."
Woods returned a 69 to be four under par, just two behind the pack of five leaders at the end of the second round. Following the storm, the wind was already getting up with the forecast for gusts of between 30 and 40mph.
What is it about Saturdays at majors tournaments? All four have been affected by bad weather this season. Woods won the first two but the Grand Slam was blown away on the third afternoon at Muirfield. But Woods did not feel he needed to prove himself after his 81 in The Open. "No, that was a fluke day," he said. "You just chalk it up. It is going to be tough today but it will be exciting. We'll have to guts it out somehow."
Funk had got to eight under on Friday but dropped a shot just before play was suspended. He bogeyed his first hole yesterday, the fifth, but then holed a chip shot on the fly for a birdie at the seventh. He gave that shot away again at the eighth and a 70 left the 46-year-old in a tie with Mark Calcavecchia, Justin Leonard, Rich Beem and former US Open champion Retief Goosen, all of whom had finished their rounds at lunchtime on Friday.
Rose was at the course at 6.15 and proceeded to eat breakfast four times before going to stretch in the physio van. "My back felt a little tight on Friday," he said. "I was not able to swing quite as freely as I would like but there was no real problem. I have been working on making a full shoulder turn this week and I probably should have done some more stretching." The 22-year-old, playing in his first tournament in America, had four holes to play and was pleased with his morning effort. He holed a good putt at the sixth to save dropping back to level par and then hit an eight iron to three feet for a birdie at the par-five seventh.
He had further chances at his last two holes after hitting a four iron to eight feet at the par-three eighth and a five iron to 12 feet at the ninth. Although he holed neither putt, Rose was just delighted with the quality of his striking.
"I hit some lovely, controlled, low iron shots," he said. "It was four good holes' work." Rose had dropped back on Friday evening when he took a bogey at the 16th and a double bogey at the 17th. But after limiting the damage yesterday a 73 left him at two under, just four strokes off the lead.
"Overall, the round was hard work. Every time I made a birdie I seemed to make a mistake. But I am very pleased with my first two rounds in America. I am happy with the position and now who knows what is going to happen with the weather. It is just a matter of hanging tough and trying to grind it out."
Rose missed the worst of the weather in the third round in The Open but nevertheless coped with playing with the storm that is Woods. So far his first major in the States appeared to be another sign that the four-times winner is rapidly maturing.
A context for his performance was simply and starkly provided by the fact that only four of the European Ryder Cup team made the cut. Of the others, Jesper Parnevik, Lee Westwood and Phillip Price each had a round in the 80s. Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and Niclas Fasth each had 79s, and Colin Montgomerie a 78.
There was some good news, though. Pierre Fulke, of Sweden, started the third round at four under alongside Woods while Bernhard Langer was at two under, with Rose. No other European was under par at the championship that has not been won by someone from this side of the pond in modern times.Reuse content