GULLANE, Scotland - Tiger Woods thrust his left hand into the air as the ball disappeared for a birdie on the 18th hole Friday to finish his round, a climactic ending to another difficult battle around Muirfield Golf Club.
On another bright day with temperatures in the 70s, Woods shot an even-par 71 and was delighted to be at 2 under after 36 holes and in contention heading into the final two rounds of the 142nd British Open. Despite missing two putts inside 4 feet, Woods was happy with his round on a course that is teeing up plenty of misery. Woods is seeking his first major title in five years.
Others making good moves included Lee Westwood, who shot 68 to move to 2 under; Henrik Stenson, who shot another 70 to move to 2 under; and Martin Laird, who shot 71 to finish at 1 under.
Miguel Angel Jimenez grabbed the 36-hole lead with an even-par 71, leaving him at 3 under par, one shot clear of the field.
The course, which drew criticism after the first round because of its severity of pin placements and course speed, was a tad softer Friday morning after tournament officials sprinkled water on the greens overnight. Woods even said he and playing partner Graeme McDowell made ball marks on the greens with approach shots. But the course was far from easy as the scores would indicate, and the course will get tougher as it dries out in the afternoon. As well, players are contending with a wind coming out of the northeast, the opposite of what they have seen since Monday.
"It was difficult out there," said Woods, the world No. 1 who is looking for his 15th major title. "The wind obviously is a completely different direction than it was (Thursday). On top of that, we've had quite a bit of moisture on the greens overnight. We actually made a couple of ball marks early. It obviously changed a lot as we were playing along. But one thing that (McDowell) and I were both talking about is we never got an uphill putt to the hole. We were really struggling with that. They were so much slower than yesterday.
"But coming down the hills, they're running out still."
Woods, who hasn't hit a driver during play as he's relied on long irons and metal woods to keep the ball in play on the rock-hard course, is in contention again to end his major drought, just as he was in the 2012 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship, where he held a share of the 36-hole lead at each and slipped on the weekend. He also was in the mix at this year's Masters despite a bad break off the flagstick on the 15th hole in the second round, when he was tied for the lead but watched his ball carom back into a water hazard. He stayed on the edges of contention throughout the weekend but finished in a tie for fourth.
"I'm in a good spot," Woods said. "These guys have to go out this afternoon and obviously play a golf course that's quick and it's drying out and with a different wind. So it will be tough out there. … (I'll) just continue plodding along. Just continue just being patient, putting the ball in the right spots. We're not going to get a lot of opportunities out there, but when I have, I've been able to capitalize, and hopefully I can continue doing that.
"I've put myself there, I just haven't won. I've had chances on the back nine on many of those Sundays. It's just one of those things where I haven't gotten it done."
McDowell said Woods has an excellent chance to get it done this weekend.
"He was very, very impressive the last two days," McDowell said. "He will not be far away this weekend the way he's playing. Iron play, the flight control that he has in his irons, he just hits the shot that you're supposed to hit at all times. He plays the golf course very conservatively, which I expected because I'm not sure there's a better iron player in the world. It's incredible how well he controls his ball flight. He's using his iron play to devastating effect.
"And he's putting exceptionally well. I lost count of how many 8-, 10-, 15-footers he's made for par over the last two days."
Westwood, chasing his first major title, is in position again.
"Why not enjoy it out there?" Westwood said. "It's tough for everybody. So smile your way through."
Jordan Spieth, 19, who last weekend became the PGA Tour's youngest winner since 1931, made two bogeys through 32 holes and was 3 under. Then came a double-bogey on the 15th, back-to-back bogeys on the next two holes and a missed chance on No. 18 when a 4-footer for birdie slid by the cup.
Just like that, the youngster was at 1-over 143.
Spieth said he got a little bored making all those pars.
"Yesterday, I was for some reason extremely patient with just taking my 30-footers and just trying to give myself tap-ins and not worrying about making birdies," he said. "Today I finally got to a point where I had enough and wanted to really hit it closer. And that's what happens when you try."