Badds Byrd Lead Tiger Lurking

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BMW ChampionshipLEMONT, Ill. -- Aaron Baddeley and Jonathan Byrd were well on their way to the top of the leaderboard Friday at the BMW Championship when Tiger Woods figured he better get going if he didn't want to be left behind.
 
That's about the time he started losing his swing and finding his putter, which wasn't a bad combination at Cog Hill.
 
Baddeley returned from a three-hour rain delay by making three straight birdies and finished strong for a 6-under 65, giving him a share of the lead with Byrd (69) going into the weekend of the third tournament in these PGA Tour Playoffs.
 
But it was difficult to ignore Woods, whose second straight 67 put him one shot behind along with Barclays winner Steve Stricker (66), Justin Rose (69) and Camilo Villegas (69).
 
Woods is a three-time winner on this public course outside Chicago, and it was not unusual to see him make birdie on all the par 5s and wind up in the thick of contention. How he got there was not so typical.
 
He birdied the par-5 ninth by slicing his tee shot into the woods, pulling his second shot behind more trees and then hooking an 8-iron out of the rough to 15 feet and making the putt.
 
'It's all about the angles,' he said leaving the green, as if that was the strategy all along.
 
He sliced another tee shot into the right rough on the par-5 11th, left a wedge woefully short of the hole and then made a 40-foot birdie putt, shrugging his shoulders when he slipped the putter into the bag.
 
And on the par-5 15th, he sent his second shot over the green into the bunker, took forever to play the shot because a butterfly kept floating in front of him, then knocked it out to 10 feet and made the putt.
 
'I started out hitting it great, and I felt so bad over the putts,' Woods said. 'Then I lost my swing and felt great over the putts. It's just one of those weird things about golf.'
 
Baddeley and Byrd, both of whom have won on the PGA Tour this year, were at 9-under 133.
 
The top 30 in the playoff standings advance to the Tour Championship next week in Atlanta, and at this rate, Phil Mickelson might not have much of a lead, if any at all. Mickelson decided to take this week off after winning the Deutsche Bank Championship, but the guys lined up behind him are playing well in Chicago.
 
Stricker is at No. 2, and he went toe-to-toe with Woods the last two rounds and matched him birdie-for-birdie. Stricker won here in 1996 when it was the Western Open, and he might be as confident as he has ever been, especially coming off a win at The Barclays.
 
He walked off the green shaking his head at some of the birdies Woods was making, but his were impressive in the more conventional manner. He found the fairway and laid up nicely on the 600-yard ninth, then used the wind and spin on the soft greens to stick his wedge about 5 inches from the cup. On the 11th, he again laid up short of the green and hit wedge to 18 inches as Woods was making his from across the green.
 
His only big error came on the fourth, when he misjudged the wind off the tee and went into the left rough blocked by trees. There was only one limb in his way, and Stricker figured he could go under it or over it.
 
'What are my odds of hitting that thing?' he said. 'And sure enough, I hit it dead square and it fell straight down and into a worse lie. I hacked it up short of the green and didn't get it up-and-down.'
 
But then came the strength of his game. Perhaps the most congenial guy in golf used to beat himself up over mistakes, but he is getting better at letting it go. And the fact he birdied five of the next seven holes was proof of that.
 
Rose was pleased to be in contention after missing the cut at the TPC Boston last week, and he gave himself another excellent chance at picking up his first PGA Tour victory. The Englishman has never played on the Ryder Cup team, but this is the week that world ranking points start counting in Europe's standings, and there's a lot to be earned at the BMW Championship.
 
The wild card going into the weekend might be Villegas.
 
He is No. 34 in the playoff standings and needs to finish at least eighth to have a chance to play in the Tour Championship for the first time. Villegas will be playing the third round with Woods, a first for the 25-year-old Colombian.
 
Byrd appears to be in good shape at No. 30, particularly if he keeps playing like this. The John Deere Classic winner piped his first tee shot down the fairway when rain deluged Cog Hill, leading to the morning delay. He came back out and birdied the hole, but hit a dry patch in the middle of his round when he failed to birdie the par 5s.
 
He got back into a share of the lead with a short birdie on the 17th, but only after picking up all the leaves between his ball and the cup. That's something else that rarely happened at this tournament when it was held in July.
 
'I was proud of myself,' Byrd said. 'I kept a good attitude and kept telling myself, 'I'm going to finish strong.' And I really didn't miss a shot coming in.'
 
Baddeley already is a lock for the Tour Championship, and a victory would give him a decent shot at the $10 million prize for capturing the FedEx Cup. He also was in the hunt last week outside Boston, where he wound up fifth.
 
'You always like to go ahead and finish off the week with a win, but if you keep giving yourself opportunities, you're going to win your fair share of events,' he said.
 
Woods is the best at that, and he's given himself another good chance outside Chicago.
 
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