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TIGER still believes, even with uphill struggle for fifth straight major

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Coming from anyone else, it might just be wishful thinking. When Tiger Woods says he still has a chance in the U.S. Open, though, it might be wise to pay attention.

Four straight major championships can do that for a guy.

``It can happen,'' Woods said. ``It can be done.''

A week of frustration eased somewhat for Woods on Saturday as he shot a 69 that had a chance to be a lot better. It didn't exactly move him into contention for his fifth straight major, but didn't entirely eliminate him either.

Or maybe it did, depending on who you ask.

``If he wins this tournament he's my idol, that's for sure,'' Sergio Garcia said. ``I'd say as good as he is, he can have a great round and try to finish in the top five.''

A great final round is certainly a possibility for Woods, who missed a chance to get something going Saturday when a string of putts just slid by the hole or lipped out.

It left him nine shots back, a monumental task even for the greatest player of his era.

``Anybody that's within 10 shots of the lead can still win the tournament,'' Woods said. ``Paul Lawrie proved that at the British Open.''

Indeed Lawrie did, though he didn't have the likes of Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Davis Love and Garcia to pass along the way.

Woods does, making his task on Sunday even tougher. Numbers are his problem, including the fact 22 players are between him and the lead.

That's a lot to overcome, especially on a day when the pins at Southern Hills will be tucked in precarious places and birdies will be at a premium.

``You're going to have to have seven or eight guys falter and I don't see that,'' Mickelson said of Woods' chances.

Woods, though, hasn't given up hope.

``I think if you play well you can shoot a low number, but you really need to play well,'' Woods said. ``And you really need to make a few putts.''

Woods nearly did just that Saturday, in a round that might have put him within striking distance had a few putts dropped.

After a bogey on the first hole, Woods thought he made three straight birdie putts, including one on the third hole that hit the cup and spun out.

After running a downhill putt just past the edge of the cup on the par-4 fourth, Woods could only look to the sky and grin.

``I hit so many beautiful putts that just didn't go in, they were just grazing the edge,'' Woods said.

Had they fallen, the massive galleries who followed Woods in the sweltering heat at Southern Hills might have been hooting and hollering as he moved his way up the leaderboard.

Instead, they had to be content with murmuring words of encouragement.

``Come on Tiger, whittle away!'' one woman called out.

Woods began doing just that on the 642-yard fifth hole, when he hit a huge drive and then powered a 3-wood 293 yards into the left bunker. Woods blasted out and made an 8-footer for birdie to get back to even for the day.

When he hit a 3-iron 232 yards to within five feet for birdie on the par-3 eighth hole, it seemed Woods was on his way.

That quickly changed, though, as Woods hit a poor second shot on the ninth hole and had to get up-and-down for bogey and then had to do the same thing on the 12th hole.

He was able to birdie the par-3 14th and a 20-footer that dropped on 17 for birdie had him pumping his fist.

``I feel like I'm hitting the golf ball better, and that's what I need to do,'' Woods said. ``I hit the ball nice and crisp and solid.''

Woods, of course, started the week with an unprecedented fifth straight major championship in his sights. He was coming off a win at the Memorial, and seemed almost unbeatable.

Oddsmakers liked his chances so much he was an unprecedented even money favorite to win his second straight Open.

That was before he made double bogey on the ninth hole in the opening round, part of a 74 that left him eight back. He improved with a 71 on Friday, but Southern Hills didn't seem to favor his game.

``He's just showing that every blue moon he becomes human,'' Rocco Mediate said.

Some work on the range helped, and Woods was confident as he arrived at the course in tennis shoes and wearing sunglasses an hour and 20 minutes before his tee time.

He was even more confident 18 holes later, though no closer to the lead.

``If I enter a tournament, I expect to go out there and give it everything I have,'' Woods said. ``You really can't be too disappointed if you try as hard as you can. I don't dog it. I give it everything I have. No regrets.''
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