Defending champion Tiger Woods stared down the cut-line but in the end survived to play the weekend after a 2-over 73 left him at 1-over-par 143.
'It's one of those things where you've got to always play hard,' Woods said of his cut streak, which now stands at 126 straight tournaments. 'One of the things I've always believed in is that you don't try any harder because you try the same way all the time. Whether I'm down the stretch in a major championship or trying to make a cut or trying to win a tournament, effort level doesn't change.'
Woods played the back side first at Cog Hill, the site of his three Western Open titles, and struggled early with a bogey at the 12th. He responded with a birdie at the 15th but found trouble again with a bogey at the very next hole.
Woods' round began to fall apart on the front nine, starting with a double bogey at the third and a bogey at the fourth. The top player in the game countered with back-to-back birdies starting at the par-3 sixth and had a chance for a birdie at the ninth. Woods failed to convert but tapped in for a closing par to finish seven shots back.
'A few years ago I did the same thing and I think I finished top 10 that year, so it was kind of the same way,' said Woods. 'I really grinded it out coming in just to make the cut then, and same way this year for some reason.'
Howell, who almost came back last Sunday in an eventual four-shot loss to Adam Scott at the Booz Allen Classic, has been searching for his second PGA Tour win for quite some time since break through at Kingsmill in 2002.
'Until last week I couldn't say at all that I had a chance to win a golf tournament this year other than New Orleans,' said Howell. 'As everyone knows out here, it's about winning. It's about how many times you win.'
The 25-year-old hit a 6-iron to 10 feet for a birdie at the fifth and added a birdie at the ninth to make the turn at 4 under. Howell dropped a shot with a bogey at the 10th but recovered with a birdie at the 11th after his third shot stopped within 6 feet of the hole.
Howell came close to an ace at the par-3 14th and tapped in for a birdie. He then reached the green in two at the par-5 15th and took two putts for another birdie to hold a share of the halfway lead.
'I thought yesterday the scores would be a lot lower than they were,' said Howell. 'I played in the afternoon, and it was absolutely zero wind. For any event, but especially for one in Chicago, it was phenomenal. It's actually almost more difficult when there's no wind because you're looking for just a little bit.'
Gogel, who earned his lone PGA Tour victory at the 2002 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, improved his standing drastically from Thursday to Friday. After a 72 yesterday left him in a tie for 66th, Gogel crafted a second-round 64 to secure a piece of the lead.
'I finished yesterday with three bogeys in the last five holes, so a disappointing finish,' said Gogel. 'I played really solid today.'
Gogel started on the 10th tee and tallied a birdie at the 13th to get back to even par and picked up steam with an eagle at the par-5 15th. Gogel kept his momentum going around the turn with birdies at the first and the fourth.
At the par-4 seventh, Gogel knocked his second shot inside 8 feet for a birdie and capped off his round with a birdie at the ninth.
'I'm excited to be in this position and my expectations are low. Now that I'm kind of in contention I'm not trying to finish it off and win,' said Gogel. 'I'm just kind of more committed to kind of playing the kind of golf I've been playing the last five or six tournaments.'
Lowery managed a couple of bogeys and a birdies on the front nine before catching fire on the inward half. The 43-year-old ran off four birdies over his last nine holes for a round of 68.
'It's a good hard golf course. If you hit your irons well, which I'm a pretty good iron player, I'm keeping the ball in the fairway,' said Lowery, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour. 'I'm pretty competitive, and I putted pretty well.'
Mark Hensby converted an 8-foot birdie putt at the 16th to join the leaders at 6 under. He bogeyed the last, however, to finish alongside Geoff Ogilvy at 5-under-par 137.
Scott Hoch used a hole in one at the par-3 14th to move into a tie for first at minus-6, but a pair of bogeys down the stretch left him two shots off the pace. Hoch carded a 69 to join Robert Allenby, D.J. Brigman and Robert Gamez at 4-under-par 138.
Loren Roberts, who held the first-round lead, followed up his 64 with a 75 to finish in a group at 3-under-par 139 that features Stuart Appleby and K.J. Choi.
The 36-hole cut fell at 2-over-par 144 with 82 players qualifying for the weekend. Notables who missed the cut were major champions Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel and Mike Weir.