Woods surges into contention with best round of year

Saturday, November 6th 2004, 12:08 pm
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Maybe Tiger Woods knew what he was doing after all.

On the verge of becoming just another millionaire golfer, Woods finally put his new swing to good use. He sure resembled the Tiger of old in the second round of the Tour Championship, shooting an 8-under 64 that catapulted him into contention Friday.

He was chasing Jay Haas, who turns 51 next month and hasn't won in 11 years.

Already the oldest player to qualify for the season-ending event, Haas was playing good enough to end his winless streak after a 66 gave him a two-stroke lead over Stephen Ames.

``Obviously, I have not won. I would sure love to do it,'' Haas said. ``I dream about it.''

But Woods was lurking just three shots behind.

``You have to understand there are risks to getting better,'' he said. ``I've always taken risks to try and become a better golfer, and that's one of the things that's got me as far as I have.''

Still, Woods raised plenty of eyebrows when he decided to tweak the swing that made him the first professional to win four straight majors. So far, his only victory this year came way back in February at the Match Play Championship.

With Vijay Singh dominating golf, Woods has become a forgotten man.

That changed Friday when he made two birdies with stunning recovery shots, never came seriously close to a bogey and matched his best score of the year.

When it was done, Woods again recounted the rationale for altering his swing, reminding everyone that he's done it all before.

After winning the 1997 Masters by a record 12 strokes, he deemed it necessary to make some changes that would give him better control and more versatility with his shots. Woods went more than two years before winning his second major.

``Sometimes it's not pretty in the beginning,'' he said, ``but I've come out a better player at the end. Trust me, I've been down this road before, so it's nothing new. I'm starting to see some of the fruits now.''

Of course, one round didn't mean Woods was all the way back. He'd been in this position before, but wasn't able to hold onto a 36-hole lead or make up ground.

This time, he had to catch a guy whose career renaissance comes with constant references to his age.

``If I was 50 and sitting at home, nobody would be talking about me,'' Haas said. ``I'm just glad I've got a parking spot out there and they let me tee off this week.''

He has a nifty par save from 60 feet away in a bunker, followed by a slick 12-foot birdie on the 18th that gave him a 7-under 133 through two rounds at East Lake Golf Club.

``It's way too early to get too excited about it,'' said Haas, who has gone 276 tournaments without a victory. ``But I haven't done it with smoke and mirrors. I've played solid golf, and that gives me encouragement for the weekend.''

Not everyone finished as strong as Haas.

The final three holes are among the toughest at East Lake, and they knocked Mike Weir and Zach Johnson off the leaderboard.

Weir was at 6 under and in the lead until a bogey-bogey-double bogey finish. He needed four shots to get down from just behind the 18th green, leaving him at 2 under with a 69.

Johnson was at 5 under until he ran into problems on the 16th, hitting an air ball with his wedge from behind the green and making triple bogey.

Woods got into contention with an array of exciting shots. One was a 6-iron off pine straw that he hooked under a tree to within 20 feet for birdie on No. 5. The other came on the 16th, the toughest hole at East Lake, where he hit an 8-iron from 183 meters (203 yards) over the pine trees to 12 feet.

U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, whose pregnant wife is close to delivering, shot a 66 to join Woods at 4 under.

``I'll have my hands full next week,'' Goosen said.

Singh has his hands full this week if he wants to end the year with 10 victories. The Fijian took 35 putts on a cool, breezy afternoon and shot 73, ending his streak of 14 rounds at par or better.

Singh was in 17th place out of 30 players, seven shots out of the lead. Woods sounded as though he's ready to reclaim the spotlight from the world's top-ranked player.

``If I play my best,'' he said, ``I'm pretty tough to beat.''