Saturday, August 14, 2004

Woods survives cut with late charge

By Arnie Stapleton
The Associated Press

HAVEN, Wis. - Tiger Woods extended one streak and gave himself at least a chance to end another.

Woods birdied two of the final three holes Friday at the PGA Championship, where he was in danger of missing his first cut at a major tournament and ending his streak of 128 consecutive cuts made.

He's tied with another dozen golfers for 44th place, nine shots behind co-leaders Justin Leonard and Vijay Singh as he aims to avoid tying his longest drought at 10 majors without a title.

"I just need to play one of those rounds somewhere in the mid-60s and I should be all right," Woods said on Friday after his 69 put him at even par for the tournament.

Woods' streak of consecutive cuts was on his mind throughout a laborious round in which he didn't make his move until the final six holes, three of which he birdied.

"I was thinking about it a little bit because I wasn't playing well," Woods said. "If I was playing well, it would be no big deal, just try and get myself in contention for he weekend. But I wasn't playing well."

And the streak is one he cherishes more than his 331-week reign as the world's top-ranked golfer.

"Who cares about the No. 1 ranking? Yeah, it's great and all to be No. 1 in the world, but it's not the end of all things. What is pretty cool is being able to go out there and play that consistently, that hard for that long a period of time," Woods said.

"Because you're going to have your bad days - you saw that today and (Thursday). And you've got to somehow find it within yourself to get it done."

Did he ever.

Woods was 2 over when he approached the 16th hole, a par 5 known as "Endless Bite."

Needing to hit the fairway for any chance at all, and having struggled off the tee all day, Woods delivered his best of the week to set up a 6-iron into the green for a two-putt birdie that put him on the cut line.

He backed off his shot on the par-3 17th to check his line, played a safe shot to 25 feet, and raised his arm as it disappeared for another birdie, lightly tapping his fist.

When he narrowly missed the 18th green, he allowed himself a smile ... perhaps knowing he at least would spend the weekend at Whistling Straits.

Woods began his day at 3 over, birdied the first two holes and cringed when his putt for birdie on the par-3 third hole came up 6 inches short. It would be another 14 holes before he got to even.

Woods, whose putter abandoned him Thursday, was done in by his driver on the front nine Friday.

The trouble started on No. 2.

"Left! Left! Left!" implored Woods as his tee shot went into the right rough.

He pounded his driver into the ground on No. 9 when he hit the ball into the tall grass, and again on No. 10, when the rough claimed another shot.

But his round was about to turn around.

He was short of the green on 10, about 30 yards from the cup. He opened up the blade of his sand wedge and took a full swing, slipping the club under the ball to pop it straight up in the air. The slightest miss and it would be 40 feet long, but it landed 3 feet from the hole for par.

If he misses, he's 4 over and all but cooked.

Same on 11, a 618-yard par-5, where he went from the left rough to the right rough and had 10 feet for par and sank it.

He called it the turning point.

"You know, I'm grinding on that putt and made it in there and (I'm thinking) just try to keep this momentum going, just take little baby steps, build on one shot," Woods said. "I shot one positive putt and built on it, hit another good shot on the next hole and just built on it. That's kind of how it all started."

After he holed 18, Woods doffed his cap to thank the crowd that had given him and his playing partners, Singh (68) and John Daly (76) a standing ovation coming up the 18th fairway.

Then he and caddie Steve Williams shook hands like two businessmen closing a deal after an all-day negotiation.

"Yeah, we worked very hard on the back nine trying to plot our way along," Woods said. "And we just stayed very focused and very committed to what we were trying to do. It was a nice team effort coming in."

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