Woods takes lead in search of Aussie title

World No 1 establishes two-shot advantage to close in on victory at halfway stage
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The Independent Online

Tiger Woods, the world No 1, has his first title on Australian soil in his sights after establishing a two-shot break over the rest of the field at the halfway stage of the JBWere Masters at Kingston Heath.

Woods, who shared the lead after an opening 66, produced an unspectacular but thoroughly effective round of 68 yesterday to move to 10-under overall, two clear of Australia's James Nitties and Greg Chalmers, while American Jason Dufner was the best of the early tee-offs with a 67 to sit in outright fourth.

The crowd of 24,007 that turned out to watch the world's premier golfer were far from disappointed as Woods produced two birdies to kick things off in style and then gathered shots at the 6th and 12th.

The fact Woods has left a few shots out on the course is no consolation to the chasing pack, which would appear to have precious little chance of reeling him in over the course of the weekend.

Nitties, who also shot a 66 in the opening round, kept pace with the leader for much of the day, with birdies on 1, 6 and 14, but a bogey on 15 saw him slip back to eight-under for the tournament.

Chalmers picked up four birdies, three on the front nine and one on the back, to stay within touching distance.

A second-round 67 saw Dufner as the early clubhouse leader at seven-under, where he sits in outright fourth. The 32-year-old did his best work early in his round, racing to the turn in 31 on a front nine, which included five birdies.

He got to nine-under before dropping two shots late including a bogey at the last when he three-putted from 15 metres.

"All in all, it was a pretty good day, a 67 on this golf course is a pretty good score," Dufner said. "It's fantastic to come all the way over here to play golf and have a chance to win this tournament.

"It's a great tournament, one of your bigger tournaments especially with Tiger being in the field and any time you can measure up against the game's No 1 it shows you where you're at."

Three players share fifth place, Ashley Hall, Manny Villegas and Mathew Goggin. Goggin, whose 68 was the best of the afternoon rounds on Thursday, would have been hoping for something better than his 70, which comprised 16 pars and two birdies, yesterday morning.

Villegas is clearly enjoying his time in Australia and also stands five off the pace after six birdies and two bogeys, while Hall had five birdies and two bogeys in his 69.

Austria's Bernd Wiesberger moved up the leaderboard with a 67 to take a share of eighth with Stuart Appleby (70), while Cameron Percy and Branden Grace are also on five-under and are still out on the course. Of the other leading Australian contenders out early yesterday, John Senden (73, 69) is on two-under alongside Adam Scott (71, 71), a stroke clear of Richard Green (72, 71).

Rod Pampling, who played with Woods, shot a 70 for three-under overall, while Craig Parry just made the cut at two-over after a 76.

Coming off Thursday's one-over 73, Aaron Baddeley was in danger of disappearing out the back door when he double-bogeyed his fifth hole for the morning, the par-five 14th, which has proved easy pickings for virtually all the leading contenders.

But the 2007 Australian Masters champion, who also won the Australian Open at the Heath in 2000, redeemed himself with a scorching inward nine.

An eagle at the first was the trigger and he kept it going with a flurry of birdies from 5 through 7 for a 68, which has him at three-under overall.

It appears likely the cut will fall at plus-three for the top 65 in the field plus ties.