By Steve Keating
PEBBLEBEACH, CA. (Reuters) – Gary Woodland shot out of the U.S. Open woodwork with an error-free six-under 65 to steal the halfway lead from Justin Rose on Friday, while a fuming Tiger Woods insisted he was still in the ball game after a bogey-bogey finish.
Out in the morning wave, overnight leader Rose set the target with a grinding one-under 70 and saw off all his early challengers on a chilly day on the Monterey peninsula.
But as the sun sank into the Pacific Ocean, Woodland knocked him from his perch in style by rolling in a monster 50-foot birdie putt at the last to get to nine-under 133 and take a two-shot lead over the Englishman.
The 65 equalled the lowest round ever at a U.S. Open held at Pebble Beach set by Woods in 2000 and matched by Rose on Thursday.
Having finished no higher than a tie for 23rd in eight previous U.S. Opens, Woodland went about his business in anonymity as headliners Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Woods took the spotlight.
Only three times in 26 rounds at the U.S. Open had Woodland scored under 70 but the 35-year-old American hardly put a step wrong at the Pebble Beach Golf Links with not a single bogey on his card.
For much of his career Woodland has been a non-factor at the majors.
Without a top 10 finish in his first 27 majors up to last year, he earned his first with a tie for sixth at the PGA Championship followed by a tie for eighth in the same event this year.
“It’s not something that you’re proud of,” said Woodland. “From all those experiences you learn.
“I don’t have to be perfect with my ball striking because I have other things that can pick me up, that’s been a big confidence boost for me, knowing I don’t have to be perfect I can still contend and have a chance to win.”
Lurking three back was South African Louis Oosthuizen, shot a 70, with his erstwhile compatriot Aaron Wise and Northern Irishman McIlroy one shot further adrift at five-under.
McIlroy, U.S. Open winner in 2011, had a heart-stopping afternoon plunging up and down the leaderboard before signing for a two-under 69.
The wild ride began when he picked up two birdies on an error free outward nine and another at 11 to get within one of the lead.
Without a bogey since his opening hole on Thursday, McIlroy picked up his second on the 13 and disaster struck at 14 when he took a double-bogey and skidded out of sight.
The 30-year-old quickly pulled out of the tailspin with back-to-back birdies at 15 and 16 to get right back into contention.
“You’re going to make bogeys around here, that’s what’s going to happen obviously I played a very solid round up until that point,” said McIlroy.
“I bounced back well, those birdies on 15 and 16 were huge to get me right back into this golf tournament.”
Koepka, bidding to become the first player in over a century to sweep three consecutive U.S. Opens, also battled to stay in contention, turning in a 69 for a second straight day to leave him on four-under, five back of the leader.
“I feel great. I’m excited. I’ve got a chance,” enthused Koepka.
“That’s all you can ask for. I just need to make a few putts.”
Woods began his day five off the pace but picked up what would be his only birdie at his second hole before stringing together 14 pars and stumbling to the finish with back-to-back bogeys that left him fuming.
A one-over 72 left Woods at level par, nine shots off the pace and with work do if he is to contend for a 16th major.
“I’m a little hot right now,” growled Woods. “Right now I’m still in the ball game.
“There’s so many guys with a chance to win. We’ve got a long way to go.”
(Editing by Clare Fallon/Ken Ferris/Nick Mulvenney)