Out of the Woods

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

SAN DIEGO -- On a shot some originally thought may have re-aggravated his knee, Tiger Woods kick-started the U.S. Open charge everyone was waiting for yesterday.

With his ball lying in the dirt alongside a fairway cart path Woods chose to stand on, the world's top player took a rip with an eight iron, sending it 157 yards over a bunker to within 15 feet of the pin on the first green (his 10th hole).

After walking somewhat gingerly up the fairway at Torrey Pines South to the roar of the crowd, he promptly knocked in his first of four birdies in a five-hole stretch that served notice he was healthy enough to fight for his 14th major.

Carding six threes over the nine holes coming in, Woods flirted with the U.S. Open nine-hole record of 29 before tapping in his fifth birdie of the side for 30, ending his magical day in a three-way tie for second.

"I just happened to get a great break -- not only did I have a swing and a stance, but also had a lie where I could control my distance," said Woods, who figured standing on the path with his metal spikes was the only option as a drop would've left him behind a tree.

"I was just hanging around and trying to be patient and get back to even par for the tournament, and all of sudden, they start flying in from everywhere."

He said while the knee he had operated on two months earlier was sore, the shot on No. 1 didn't aggravate it. So, after opening the tourney with a double bogey Thursday, his 3-under-par 68 has him at 2-under, 140 for the championship. The leader, courtesy of a 40-ft. birdie putt on his final hole, is Stuart Appleby, who shot 70 to sit 3-under.

"I really was floating around par all day, unable to do much, so it was very sweet at the end," said the Aussie.

Joining Woods is Rocco Mediate and Sweden's Robert Karlsson, who posted 71 and 70 respectively on a lengthy course the field is calling tough but fair.

Two strokes back sits an unlikely quartet featuring D.J. Trahan, Lee Westwood, Miguel-Angel Jimenez and Davis Love III.

Jimenez had the low round of the day at 66.

On a day when most of the qualifiers who sparkled Day 1 came down to earth, Love made a surprise appearance on the scoreboard, carding a 69 that put him at 1-under. Love had to qualify for the tourney following ankle surgery last fall after stepping in a hole while golfing.

"This course is perfect, and I know what it's going to be on the weekend -- putting," said Mediate, noting 15 players are within five strokes of the lead.

"It's going to get harder and tighten down -- there are a lot of people chasing everybody."

Four of a record seven Canadians who qualified are still in the hunt, including Mike Weir and Jon Mills (Oshawa, Ont.), who are both at 5-over for the tourney. One back of the duo is Calgary's Stephen Ames and Cambridge, Ont. veteran Ian Leggatt. Canadian Amateur champ Nick Taylor, 20, finished 10-over to miss the cut as did Brampton, Ont.'s David Hearn, who was 9-over. Montreal's Yohann Benson's first round 83 kept him well out of reach.

Predictably, first-round leaders Kevin Streelman and Justin Hicks shot 77 and 80 respectively, but made the cut that saw 80 players within 10 strokes of Appleby.

Woods' inspiring play had the initial effect of spurring on playing partner Phil Mickelson, who responded with a miracle par save on the par-3 third hole (his 12th), where he got up and down from beside a sign in the cliff-side rough warning of rattlesnakes. However, three straight bogeys later and Mickelson wound up with a 75 that has the hometown favourite six back of Woods at 4-over.

Ernie Els and Geoff Ogilvy are notables in the group of five players within three of Appleby.

Woods' exciting charge did well to silence rumblings from players upset the poa annua greens had become so bumpy by the end of the first two rounds. It certainly didn't appear to bother Woods.

"I don't know if you ever watched The Price is Right, but that Plinko game where they drop that little thing and it goes back (and forth) -- that's what you feel like when you stand over (a putt), and that's on six-footers," said Trahan of the controversial greens.

"You're kind of going, well, if I bounce it off that bump, maybe it will bounce off that one and bounce back in the hole."


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