Wily Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez led the way and Tiger Woods ground out a second-round 71 to stay right in the mix as the British Open turned into a dogfight at Muirfield on Friday.
The early starters enjoyed the best conditions on another sun-drenched day, but the course bared its teeth in the afternoon to throw up a congested leaderboard heading into the weekend.
Jimenez, 49, followed his opening 68 with a level-par 71, the cigar-loving Spaniard drawing on all his experience to mix two birdies with two bogeys in a rock-steady round to finish at three under.
“I like to feel the pressure. As long as you can handle that, it’s no problem,” he said. “I feel comfortable.”
World No. 1 Woods made two birdies and two bogeys on the front nine and sank a 10-foot putt on the final green to finish on two under par along with Briton Lee Westwood (68), Henrik Stenson of Sweden (70) and American Dustin Johnson (72).
Briton Martin Laird, Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello, American Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrera of Argentina were the only other players to finish under par and will start the third round two behind Jimenez.
Woods collected birdies at the third and fifth holes, but bogeys on the fourth, eighth and 11th halted his charge and the American waved his putter in frustration after wasting a birdie chance at the 12th.
He maintained his concentration, however, to par the next five holes and a fine approach shot set up a birdie on the last.
“Towards the middle part of my round I lost the pace and was blowing it past the hole,” 14-time major winner Woods said. “But I finally got it fixed at the end. Just got to continue plodding along. Continue being patient, putting the ball in the right spots and trying.”
“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,” Woods said.
Zach Johnson, the overnight leader after an opening 66, bogeyed four holes on the front nine, but got back to five under before giving away another four shots including a double-bogey six at the treacherous 15th.
Pars on the closing holes were not easy to achieve with the greens speeding up throughout the afternoon.
As the players struggled to cope with the conditions, the projected cut mark increased steadily throughout the day and was finally made at eight over.
World No. 2 Rory McIlroy will miss the weekend’s action after slumping to a 75 and a 12-over-par total while former world No. 1 Luke Donald finished 10 over, a 72 failing to repair the damage of his opening 80.
AFP, SYLVANIA, Ohio
Spain’s Beatriz Recari fired a six-under par 65 on Friday to match Paula Creamer and Alison Walshe for the lead at the LPGA Marathon Classic, with Inbee Park lurking two shots back.
Recari fired six birdies, two bogeys and an eagle to stand alongside the US duo at eight-under 134 after 36 holes in the US$1.3 million tournament, one stroke ahead of American Jacqui Concolino.
South Korea’s Park, who has won the first three majors of the women’s golf season and will continue her Grand Slam bid in two weeks at the Women’s British Open, fired a 69 to share fifth on 136.
Alongside world No. 1 Park were Japan’s Chie Arimura and New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko, the 16-year-old world amateur No. 1.
Taiwan’s Candie Kung was tied for 22nd on two-under after a round of 69, but compatriots Amy Hung and Yani Tseng both missed the cut.
Additional reporting by staff writer