Woods nine strokes behind leaders

TULSA (OKLA.), JUNE 16: Three players who have not won a tournament this year were tied for the lead. Tiger Woods was nine strokes behind, looking confounded instead of confident, with his chance to win his fifth consecutive major championship in serious jeopardy.

Good luck trying to figure out this year's U.S. Open, where the unexpected has become the norm, and the real drama is yet to come.

When Friday's second round was halted because of darkness, Mark Brooks, Retief Goosen of South Africa and J.L. Lewis shared first place at 4-under (136), playing terrific golf at the treacherous Southern Hills Country Club, where every hole can test both shot- making and sanity.

Brooks had a remarkable second-round 64, just one shy of the Open record shared by Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf. Brooks' 6 under round rekindled memories of 1996, when he won the PGA Championship.

With Woods 5 over for the tournament (145) and needing a brilliant weekend to win, the window of opportunity at a major has not looked this wide open for more than a year. So on a course where each swing can produce a swing of momentum, the contenders realized their opportunity, but they also realized that nothing had been decided. The second round will be completed Saturday morning, followed by the start of the third round.

``Leads and that sort of thing probably aren't going to matter until late Sunday,'' said Lewis, who does not have a top-10 finish in 15 starts this year but who has found something this week. ``If you've got the lead with two or three holes to go, then maybe that's going to matter. But right now, I don't think anybody is going to benefit by looking at the leader board.''

For those interested in looking, David Duval and Phil Mickelson were in the clubhouse at 1 under, in excellent position to make a run at their first major championship.

Like Woods, Duval has found that accuracy is far more important than length at Southern Hills. But unlike Woods, Duval has hit fairways consistently, avoiding the rough and the trees, and allowing himself to hit strategic approach shots.

``I only hit four drivers,'' said Duval, the only player to finish in the top 10 at the Open the past three years. ``You've got to be careful off the tees. There are a lot of places to get in trouble.''

Woods has discovered that the hard way, as did the 56- year-old Hale Irwin, the clubhouse leader on Thursday, who fell out of contention Friday with four bogeys and a double-bogey on the front nine.

It was a long day in many ways for Woods, the world's No. 1 player, who began play at 7 a.m. with 89 other competitors who had to complete their first rounds after Thursday's play was suspended because of rain and lightning.

When Woods saved par at 7:01 a.m. by making a testy 8- foot putt at No. 10, many expected him to take off after struggling on Thursday, when he played 10 holes at 3 over. But Woods is not sure where the ball is going from one swing to the next. He bogeyed No. 12 in the morning, when he failed to get up and down from a bunker. At the par-5, No. 13 in the morning, Woods tried to reach the green in two shots but plopped his second shot into a pond and had to scramble to save par.

It was that kind of day for Woods, hitting out of the rough, working shots around trees, missing key putts and never building momentum. Only four of Woods' 50 rounds this year have been over par, and two of them have come in this tournament (75- 71).

``I'm trying as hard as I can, but sometimes things don't go your way,'' Woods said. ``If I can shoot a good number, I can shoot up the board.''

But Brooks, Goosen, and Lewis will wake up Saturday morning sharing the lead. Brooks, a 40-year-old native of Fort Worth, has not won since his victory at the 1996 PGA Championship. Goosen, a consistent player on the PGA European Tour, has three-top 10s in Europe this year, but his last victory came at the 2000 Trophee Lancome. And Lewis, a 41-year-old tour veteran, has just one victory in 169 starts on tour, winning the 1999 John Deere Classic.

Lewis was carried by solid ball-striking and a hot putter, Goosen hit excellent drives and approach shots, and Brooks used a solid short game and strong putter to make an afternoon charge.

Brooks was angry after ending his first round Friday morning with a double-bogey, dropping him to 2 over. In the 45- minute break between rounds, Brooks switched drivers, and the momentum switched as well. He birdied five of his first six holes in Round 2, made the turn at 30 and never made a bogey in a round that included six birdies.

Brooks struggled with bad swing habits and equipment problems after his 1996 PGA victory, but his perseverance has paid off, and though he expected Woods to make a charge, Brooks expects his own game to hold up.

``If I can shoot 64, he can shoot 60,'' Brooks said of Woods. ``Don't count him out. He's human, he probably showed it today. This golf course isn't set up right up his alley. ``I haven't played a lot of great golf in the last couple of years, but a lot of it is confidence. I just started hitting some good shots, built some confidence, and made some putts.''

Goosen admitted the weekend would be unnerving. But it would also be exciting. ``Tomorrow, I'll be a little bit nervous when I stand on the first tee,'' he said. ``But you know, that's what golf is all about.''

Chip shots Phil Mickelson made a hole in one on the 174-yard No. 6, using an 8-iron. It was the 33rd hole in one in Open history. ... The 36-hole cut will not be made until the second round is completed on Saturday, but it was projected to be 6 over (146), meaning that Nick Price (8 over), who won the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in 1994, will probably not play the final two rounds.