Woods shows steel in major game of mind over matter

World No 1 fights through pain barrier in remarkable back nine to put himself in the mix

Such is the supreme focus of Tiger Woods he was perhaps the only person who arrived here for the third round of the US Open yesterday without the images of an incredible Friday night replaying over and over in his mind. Yes, here is the ultimate creature of the here and now, who has turned a truth on its head. "Those who choose not to remember the past are condemned to repeat it" – or so the saying goes. It seemed that once again Woods' rivals were about to be condemned by his refusal to bask in the limelight of one of his more remarkable rounds.

What was certain was that the locker room found itself unable to switch off from the immediate past and was still filled by the amazed whispers of Tiger's 68 and of a back nine during which he not only defied the uncompromising reputation of US Open golf but also a few laws of medical science.

The 32-year-old shot the second lowest score for nine holes in the tournament's 113-year history – 30. And he did so on one leg. Just another chapter in a legend positively creaking with the previously impossible, then. One shot stood out above all others as Woods reduced his playing partner, a certain Phil Mickelson, to a bungling bystander.

He was on the first (his 10th) and after a frontward half characterised by a mix of sloppiness (four bogeys) and brilliance (one eagle), a clearly frustrated Woods had sliced a drive into a position that was to test his courage as well as his shot-making. Needless to say, he passed both.

"I just happened to get a great break," said Woods, referring to his ball nestling just to the left of a tree, a few inches from a cart path. "Not only did I have a swing and a stance, but I also had a lie where I could control my distance. And it was just an eight-iron up there. Put the ball in the centre of the green and move on. I wasn't trying to do anything in particular with that shot."

He made it sound so simple but most, if not all, of the competitors here would have taken the free drop available to move away from that cart path. After all, wearing metal spikes on concrete and turning the body ferociously enough to effect a club speed of over 100mph does not figure in the manual of how best to recover from knee surgery you underwent two months ago.

Yet Woods somehow blanked out the agony he knew was about to rattle around his joint and with a huge grimace he cajoled the ball to 20 feet. "That's part of the deal," he said. "That's part of wearing metal spikes. I would much rather have the lie."

And so began the series of devastating putts that took him from seven behind the lead to within one of Stuart Appleby on three-under. Woods said: "They just started flying in from anywhere." Suddenly the US Open was not the US Open any more. It had been transformed from the annual slog, the traditional par bore, into an enthralling birdie-fest. And how the crowd reacted. Never has a Friday at America's national championship been played out to such a cacophony.

The USGA's decision to group the world Nos 1 and 2 together was a bold move that, in terms of generating atmosphere, paid off. It will be interesting to see if the other majors follow the lead. What it does is give the opening two days an added frisson, almost a Sunday feel.

But there were ugly scenes on the "super-group's" final hole when the caddie of Adam Scott, the world No 3, was reported to have jumped through the ropes and clashed with two fans. Tony Navarro, who used to carry Greg Norman's bag, could well be sanctioned by the USGA, particularly if it is proved that he headbutted one of the hecklers, an accusation he denies.

As it was, after the intervention of Mickelson's caddy, Jim Mackay, who went looking for the police, the two rowdy fans, a father and son, were arrested and spent the night in a local jail. Whether the increased intensity surrounding the marquee pairing contributed to the fracas will have to be decided, although it would be a shame if two over-fuelled members of the gallery and one over-enthusiastic caddy influence the prospects of any future early-round rematch.

After his experience – in which he saw a one-shot advantage swing around by seven during Tiger's charge – Mickelson might not be too keen anyway. Particularly if and when he reads the inquest. The yarn will go that if he and the others can't beat Tiger when he is limping this badly, then they may as well all hobble off into the sunset.

Yesterday afternoon, Robert Karlsson had the honour of seeing first hand if Woods could keep on popping. The Swede was one of five Europeans in the top 10, one of seven in the top 20. And with Englishmen of the quality of Lee Westwood and Luke Donald on one-under and level respectively, it was especially promising for British golf as it scanned the 38 years back to Tony Jacklin's one and only US Open success.

If Tiger was not in attendance it would surely have been odds-on for one of Nick Faldo's Ryder Cuppers to prevail. Yet he is and they were all trying to figure out a way to beat him. "I'll be doing my best to accidentally throw a club towards his sore knee," said Appleby with a wink. "It would be an accident, of course."

The leaderboard

(US unless stated)

216

Mike Weir (Can) 73 74

217

Brandt Snedeker 76 73 68

Brandt Jobe 73 75 69

218

Aaron Baddeley (Aus) 74 73 71

219

Ryuji Imada (Japan) 74 75 70

Anthony Kim 74 75 70

Boo Weekley 73 76 70

Jeff Quinney 79 70 70

Eric Axley 69 79 71

220

Steve Stricker 73 76 71

Chad Campbell 77 72 71

David Toms 76 72 72

Trevor Immelman (SA) 75 73 72

Michael Thompson 74 73 73

Joe Ogilvie 71 76 73

221

Todd Hamilton 74 74 73

222

Andrew Svoboda 77 71 74

Justin Leonard 75 72 75

Jonathan Mills (Can) 72 75 75

Matt Kuchar 73 73 76

223

Heath Slocum 75 74 74

Alastair Forsyth (GB) 76 73 74

Jarrod Lyle (Aus) 75 74 74

Justin Hicks 68 80 75

Pat Perez 75 73 75

Daniel Chopra (Swe) 73 75 75

224

Ian Leggatt (Can) 72 76 76

Soren Hansen (Den) 78 80 76

Ben Crane 75 72 77

225

Rickie Fowler 70 79 76

Vijay Singh (Fiji) 71 78 76

Paul Casey (GB) 79 70 76

Nick Watney 73 75 77

Stephen Ames (Can) 74 74 77

226

Jesper Parnevik (Swe) 77 72 77

Ross McGowan (GB) 76 72 78

John Mallinger 73 75 78

227

Chris Kirk 75 74 78

228

Andrew Dresser 76 73 79

Rich Beem 74 74 80

Second round

139

Stuart Appleby (Aus) 69 70

140

Rocco Mediate 69 71

Robert Karlsson (Swe) 70 70

Tiger Woods 72 68

141

D J Trahan 72 69

Davis Love III 72 69

Lee Westwood (GB) 70 71

Miguel Angel Jimenez (Sp)75 66

142

Luke Donald (GB) 71 71

Robert Allenby (Aus) 70 72

Geoff Ogilvy (Aus) 69 73

Ernie Els (SA) 70 72

Carl Pettersson (Swe) 71 71

143

John Rollins 75 68

Oliver Wilson (GB) 72 71

144

Robert Dinwiddie (GB) 73 71

Scott Verplank 72 72

Camilo Villegas (Col) 73 71

Woody Austin 72 72

Rod Pampling (Aus) 74 70

Andres Romero (Arg) 71 73 145

Kevin Streelman 68 77

Bart Bryant 75 70

Stewart Cink 72 73

Retief Goosen (SA) 76 69

Padraig Harrington (Ire) 78 67

Martin Kaymer (Ger) 75 70

Rory Sabbatini (SA) 73 72

John Merrick 73 72

Jim Furyk 74 71

Tim Clark (SA) 73 72

D A Points 74 71

Patrick Sheehan 71 74

Brett Quigley 73 72

146

Sergio Garcia (Sp) 76 70

Hunter Mahan 72 74

Derek Fathauer 73 73

Dustin Johnson 74 72

Adam Scott (Aus) 73 73

Phil Mickelson 71 75

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