Tiger at His Best

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PGA ChampionshipTULSA, Okla. -- Now that Tiger Woods has flirted with golf history and, for today at least, been rejected..
 
Now that Tiger Woods has turned out to be hotter than Tulsa..
 
Now that Tiger Woods has stormed to a two-shot lead over Scott Verplank at the halfway mark of the 89th PGA Championship..
 
Now that Saturday and Sunday are suddenly shaping up to be a pair of victory laps for the No. 1 ranked player in the universe who is odds-on to win his first major of 2007 and first major as a parent
 
Now that all of this and more has come to pass, its time to look back at an event that had other players and story lines before Woods stole everybodys thunder Friday while commandeering center stage...
 
First this, though: The golf gods should know better than to tug on Supermans cape. If they hadnt served up a cruel 270-degree lip-out on the 18th hole, Woods would have carded the first 62 in major championship history.
 
Woods called his score a 62 . The scoreboard said 63. He also properly pointed out that there is a lot of golf left to be played here. But if the eventual outcome of this championship isnt a foregone conclusion, its doing a first rate impression of one. The words mere formality come to mind.
 
Anyway, Tulsa has been a boiling cauldron of heat and sinkhole of sweat all week. And the forecast is even more dire for the weekend.
 
Once upon a nicely turned phrase, somebody wrote that Willie Mays glove was where triples go to die.
 
Southern Hills Friday was where ice cubes went to die.
 
John Dalys bold Thursday 67 melted quickly into insignificance when he bogeyed the first two holes of his second round en route to a 3-over 75.
 
First-round leader Graeme Storm, who played so flawlessly Thursday became the Imperfect Storm Friday thanks to three bogeys and a double on his outward half that resulted in a 76 that was 11 strokes more than the day before.
 
Have I mentioned the heat and humidity? Brandt Snedeker carded a nifty 71 Friday playing in the first group off first tee to make the cut on the number. Afterward he talked about the draining effect of the conditions.
 
Got back to my room last night, turned the TV on, and was asleep by 8 oclock, Snedeker said. Woke up at 4 oclock for my round. The lights were still on; the TV was still blaring and my clothes were still on.
 
Woody Austin, 2 under and four back of Woods, should be so lucky. Even when I lay down at night my brain doesnt shut off, Austin said. Ive been a nervous person all my life.
 
Which explains why he got the heebie-jeebies when he arrived at his ball, which he found in a creek, at the 13th after an errant drive. The ball, Austin said, was sitting right next to a huge, dead frog. It was upside down in the creek..I didnt want to touch him.
 
Austin has come a long way to be in contention to win his first major. Exactly how far?
 
I was the grade school nerd, he said. I was so small; I looked like the team mascot.
 
Small no more. Austin now stands six feet tall and weighs 190 pounds.
 
For his part, Verplank has been dealing with diabetes since he was nine years old. Im in my own little world and kind of have to be, he said.
 
The world Verplank found himself in Friday at Southern Hills is called the zone. He hit 13 of 14 fairways and missed the other by less than an inch. His 66 was tied for the second low round of the day. I hit the ball yesterday and today as good as Ive ever hit it, he said.
 
Daly, Austin, Snedeker, Verplank, Geoff Ogilvy. They are among the challengers. But they have been relegated to the role of bit players.
 
Southern Hills has hosted six previous major championships. And each time a player who has led or shared the lead after 36 holes has won the golf tournament.
 
The weekend at Southern Hills now figures to be the latest in a long line of coronations for Woods. In the unlikely event that he doesnt win Sunday, the biggest story will not be about the player who beat him, it will be the fact that Woods beat himself.
 
Woods won in Ohio last week by a pile of strokes. He arrived in Oklahoma full of confidence and hitting on all cylinders. He is the fittest player in golf along with being the most talented.
 
If you enjoy sport at its highest level; if you enjoy state-of-the-art; if you enjoy watching a player that even the golf gods have to respect, pay attention to Southern Hills the next two days. You almost certainly wont be disappointed.
 
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