x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Woods takes command at Hazeltine

Tiger Woods saw off challenges from Padraig Harrington and Ross Fisher to take control of the USPGA Championship at the half-way stage.

Tiger Woods is in fine form at Hazeltine.
Tiger Woods is in fine form at Hazeltine.

Challengers queued up to test the resolve of Tiger Woods during the course of a fluctuating second day of the US PGA Championship. Each time somebody looked like getting an edge over the world No 1, he faltered as the great man went into overdrive to claim a commanding four-stroke lead at the halfway stage. For much of a testing second day at Hazeltine it looked as though any of a cluster of players could overhaul Woods going into yesterday's third round. Major champions Vijay Singh and Lucas Glover set testing morning targets at three under par for 36 holes before usual subjects like Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood started asking questions in the afternoon. Also in the mix heading for home on Friday afternoon were the long-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros, Ireland's Graeme McDowell and England's Ross Fisher, who proved that his recent good showing at the British Open was no flash in the pan. Nobody was able to sustain an attack on Woods, however, and three birdies in succession from the 14th turned an exciting battle into a virtual procession. But for a sloppy bogey at the last, the lead would have been stretched to a prohibitive five strokes. Even at four ahead Woods looked to have a 15th major title in his grasp as he chased Jack Nicklaus's record of 18. Few golfers in history have a better record at defending advantages than him as illustrated by his winning of all eight majors in which he had held the halfway lead. As far as Harrington - who continued his personal duel with Woods from their thrilling battle at the Bridgetstone Invitational a week earlier, was concerned - he was up with Woods one minute and almost out of sight the next as the Irishman's hopes of capturing back-to-back PGAs to go with his double British Open success mreceded badly. Westwood, who was found wanting at the moment of reckoning at Turnberry last month when a missed putt at the 72nd hole cost him a play-off place against Stewart Cink and Tom Watson, was culpable again with the putter. After playing splendidly to get within touching distance of Woods, he took three shots from three feet on the 17th to lose valuable ground. Fisher, who coped admirably with the distraction of his wife about to give birth in the middle of his Turnberry heroics, played even more solidly than Westwood to get to six under par alongside Tiger. Three bogeys on the homeward stretch, however, left him one of five players sharing second place. The young Englishman saw no sense in chiding himself, though. "In some ways I'm disappointed, but overall delighted," he said after posting a 68 to share the best round of the day with South Africans Ernie Els and Tim Clark. "I felt like I hit the ball fantastically well today. "At the same time, to finish bogey, bogey always leaves a little bit of a sour taste. But I'm still in there with a good shout with 36 holes to go." Woods warned that much can change over those 36 holes but a third successive victory and a sixth of the year beckons. "In order to have a lead in a major championship, you can't be playing poorly," said Woods after his two-under par-round of 70. "All those times I've led in previous majors I've been playing well and I'm playing well now. There's a long way to go. I'll just keep plodding along." wjohnson@thenational.ae