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Woods on Fringe of Contention

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- With a little time to kill, Tiger Woods sat on his bag at No. 7 and chatted with his U.S. Open playing partner, Shigeki Maruyama.
Woods asked the Japanese player about his belt and teased him about wearing matching socks.
What was that? A Tiger smile?
For all the frustration, Woods found a glimmer of hope Friday at Shinnecock Hills, managing to break par in the second round and keep himself on the fringe of contention. But it's going to be a long, hard weekend if the game's No. 1 player wants to get back on top.
Maruyama and Phil Mickelson share the lead at 6-under-par 134. Fifteen other players are between them and Woods, who's at 141.
At least he snapped his streak of above-par rounds in the U.S. Open with a 1-under 69. But the most pressing matter - an 0-for-7 drought in the majors - shows no signs of being addressed.
Woods, who once dominated the game like no player since Jack Nicklaus, just can't get anything going. His first tee shot Friday sailed right, burrowing into the hay and leading to bogey. He settled into a run of 12 straight pars - not bad for the brutal Open set-up, but hardly the kind of charge that used to be customary for Woods.
'It's a challenging golf course we have out there,' Woods said. 'You have to be patient. You have to hang in there. It's a U.S. Open. I felt like I played well enough to make some birdies. You just have to be patient. The birdies will come.'
Haven't we heard this all before?
For nearly two years, Woods has come up with a variety of reasons why he's stuck on eight major championships. On this day, he brought up the wind, 'which did a complete 180 after four or five holes.'
'We were looking forward to playing 16 downwind,' he said. 'Instead, it was right in our face.'
So Woods settled into a familiar pattern: brilliance matched with frustration, good shot followed by bad shot, every smile matched by a grimace.
It all adds up to, well, not much of anything. Thousands of fans still follow Woods around the course, as if they wouldn't dare miss it when he suddenly sets off on another period of brilliance.
Not to worry. Woods has been just a shade better than ordinary in the majors since his 2002 Open win at Bethpage Black, another Long Island course about 50 miles away.
It seems a lot longer than that.
Woods' showings in the last seven majors (28th, second, 15th, 20th, fourth, 39th, 22nd) sound like the work of a good, solid tour pro - not the greatest player of this generation.
Not surprisingly, Woods refuses to look at the glass as half-empty. After he stopped talking about the changing wind - which was actually quite calm by Shinnecock standards - Woods turned his attention to the greens. They were much slower than earlier in the week, he maintained.
'I hit two putts that were dead center,' Woods said. 'They just came up a couple of inches short. That's the difference in the speed of the greens.'
But putting isn't the problem. Woods has hit only 12 of 28 fairways over the first two days (42.9 percent). As for greens in regulation, he's managed just 19 of 36 (52.8 percent).
'To be honest, if you look at most of the guys on that board, they're not hitting a lot of fairways,' Woods said. 'I went on the computer last night just to see if I was doing anything different. No one is hitting a lot of fairways.'
Hmmm. He must be looking at a different computer than everyone else.
According to the tournament stats, Woods was tied for 116th in the 156-player field when it comes to staying on the fairway, and only slightly better (tied for 79th) in finding the green in the prescribed number of shots.
There were a few moments of levity in Friday's round.
At the par-3 7th, Woods and Maruyama sparred playfully in the tee box while waiting for the green to clear. Woods managed a smile when a little girl wearing an orange 'Tigger' hat from Winnie the Pooh shouted between holes, 'Hello, Tiger Woods!'
But there was plenty of frustration as well. His caddie, Steve Williams, allegedly kicked at a newspaper cameraman who dared snap a few pictures of Woods as he warmed up before his first hole. Nothing came of the incident.
At the last hole, Woods drove to the proper spot at the right edge of the fairway, providing a chance to go for the green. Alas, he missed to the right and had to settle for par.
'God, Tiger!' he screamed at himself, lingering to take a few extra practice swings.
'Come on, Tiger. Shake it off!' a fan yelled from behind the ropes.
But it didn't sound very hopeful.
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - U.S. Open
  • U.S. Open Photo Gallery
  • TV Airtimes
  • Full Coverage - U.S. Open
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