PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- The 2010 U.S. Open has turned Tiger Woods into the Little Engine That Could.
He thinks he can. He thinks he can.
|There's no sign of it yet, but Tiger Woods has a history of making moves on the weekend. (AP)|
"I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me."
Whatever cartoonish caricature you prefer, the world's No. 1 is applying his best Norman Vincent Peale power of positive thinking to his position seven shots off Graeme McDowell's lead at Pebble Beach.
"I'm right there," Woods said over and over after a second-round 72 on Friday morning.
"It's a long haul," he repeated time and again to the media queries.
"I feel very good," he insisted numerous times.
A decade ago, Woods said pretty much the same thing as he opened a six-stroke lead at the halfway mark he eventually expanded to a record 15 strokes on the same course. But considering Woods has made only three birdies and seven bogeys through two rounds, it seemed like he was working hard to sell everybody on the idea that a top-40 spot is just where he wanted to be.
"I feel good. I'm right there," he said when he came off the course having shot four strokes higher than playing partner Ernie Els, who sits in second at 1-under 141. "I'm only, what, seven back? And this is a long haul at a U.S. Open. This is a long haul."
That could be the story of Woods' 2010 season so far. It has been a long haul from his scandal-induced hiatus to his place back atop the pedestal he commanded for 13 years. His ragged play in recent events is starting to come around as Woods moves forward with neither a swing coach nor a familial rudder.
His game has been steadier if not spectacular through 36 holes on what is proving to be a very difficult seaside test. Els -- who escorted Woods' victory march in 2000 -- is not ruling Woods out of contention.
"A guy that's won 14 majors, he's got a lot of game," Els said. "I think he's very close. I haven't played with him in about a year. I think his ball-striking was pretty good the last two days. His short game is pretty sharp, he just didn't make enough putts. He's skimming the hole, nothing looks out of the ordinary. He looks pretty sharp. I think it's only a matter of time before he starts getting in his stride."
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Woods is singing the same tune.
"I put the ball right where I need to be, I missed the ball on the correct sides, all the shots I've hit this week I think I've only short-sided myself two times this week," he said. "So that's not bad.
"I'm right there in the championship. I just need to make a few more birdies, a few more putts on the weekend, and I'll be right there."
Woods looked capable of making a major move in the calm, cool and soft conditions that greeted them Friday morning. He chipped in for his first birdie of the tournament on the 11th hole, his second of the day. He gave it back on the 12th but stuck a good approach to make another birdie on the tricky 14th.
But he cooled off in the middle of the round. He bogeyed the treacherous 17th, than missed birdie chances on 18 and No. 1. Wayward drives led to bogeys on the second and third and it appeared another round might get away from him.
But Woods collected his third birdie of the week on the short seventh to keep himself in reasonable striking distance heading into the weekend.
"I just need to keep progressing and keep moving my way up the board," he said. "It's a long haul. The U.S. Open is not going to get easier as the week goes on. Especially on the weekend. And from what I hear it's supposed to be overcast, so I'm sure there will be a few more birdies than we normally would see."
In case anybody missed his point, he parroted himself in response to the very next question.
"Well I just need to keep progressing," he said. "It's a long process. This is a tournament where you don't win it with one round, but you can lose it with one round. And you just got to keep making progress and as I said, it's a long process winning a U.S. Open."
He's sold himself. Now he has two days to convince everybody else that he's back.
Scott Michaux is the sports columnist and golf writer for the Augusta Chronicle.