Jim Furyk leads fellow Ryder Cuppers Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods by two shots heading into the weekend in the $5 million WGC-NEC Invitational.
Furyk shot a 4-under 66 Friday to finish 36 holes at the Firestone Country Club at 9-under-par 131.
Two shots is nothing, Furyk said. Two shots can change on one hole. I still think we are very early in the golf tournament.
Mickelson matched Furyks 66 to move to 7-under, while Woods shot 67 to do the same.
Stuart Appleby (64), Padraig Harrington (66) and Darren Clarke (68) are tied for fourth place at 6-under.
Furyk started the day tied at the top with Greg Norman, but the Shark sank in round two. Norman, who said Thursday he was as confident in his game as he had been in years, bogeyed two of his first four holes in the second round and never got on-track.
Proving the fickle nature of Sport, Norman followed a head-turning 65 with a head-dropping 1-over 71.
The 46-year-old now stands five off the lead at 4-under.
Furyk set the pace early Friday, birdieing two of his first three holes.
He dropped a shot at the par-4 4th, but steadied himself with five straight pars to close his outward nine.
Furyk started the back with a birdie at the 10th, and then added another at the 14th to tie Woods for the lead at 8-under.
Tiger appeared ready to run away with his third consecutive NEC title when he birdied holes 6-8 to make the turn in 4-under-par 31.
Tiger took a two-shot lead at 9-under with his fourth birdie in five holes at No. 10, but ran into some serious trouble coming home.Woods tee shot at the par-4 13th nestled near a tree in the left rough. Laying caution to the wind ' as he is oft to do ' Tiger played a full shot, hitting a large root on his downswing.
Tiger, who was forced to hit a shot left-handed earlier in his round, released the club at the moment of impact with the trees base. And after shaking the sting out of his hands, he walked briskly to where his ball landed ' about 30 yards away.
It was the best shot I had, said Woods, who admitted to hurting his elbow when he hit the root. The healthiest shot would have been to take two-club lengths and drop. But the best shot was to go for it, try and put the ball in the fairway, edge it up there and make your par.
Instead, Woods made bogey ' his first of the day ' and dropped into a tie at the top with Furyk.
The 625-yard, par-5 16th was the deciding hole between the two leaders. Furyk made a routine birdie; meanwhile, Woods recorded an uncharacteristic double bogey.
It took Tiger three shots just to find the fairway at the 16th. He then hit the pin with his fourth shot, but the ball caromed 12 feet from the hole.
Woods then misjudged a couple of putts. Four swings + three putts = double bogey.
Having watched a two-shot lead turn into a three-shot deficit, Woods stuck his approach shot at the 18th to 10 feet, from where he converted the birdie putt.
However, Tiger wont be in Saturdays final twosome. That distinction belongs to Furyk and Mickelson.
The left-hander, who didnt arrive in Akron, OH until 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, played a cautious round on Friday.
Mickelson recorded four birdies to nary a bogey.
I didnt hit the best shots, but I scored well, Mickelson said.
With his wife, Amy, expecting their second child later this year, Mickelson has but one more tournament on his 2001 schedule ' the WGC American Express Championship.
Yet, though he has two victories to Tigers four this season ' and lacks the major that Woods has ' Mickelson still believes he can win Player of the Year honors.
If I can win this week, I move to the top of the money list, he said.
I know theres one player thats won more tournaments, but I dont know who has played better (than me) throughout the year.
A victory this week is a must if he wants to keep alive his POY hopes.
News, Notes and Numbers
*Lee Westwood withdrew after his second round after sustaining an injury to his left wrist on the 13th tee. The Englishman completed his round of 8-over-par 78 and went straight to the physio unit, where his wrist was strapped and ligament damage was diagnosed. He is expected to be sidelined for a little while and has flown home to England.
*Mickelson declined to come to the pressroom after the second round. He had to throw out the first pitch in an Akron Arrows minor league (AA) baseball game.
*Playing alongside Woods, Thomas Bjorn shot 9-over-par 79 to fall from 4-under to 5-over.
Full-field scores from the WGC-NEC Invitational