ARDMORE, Pa. – History says Tiger Woods has little chance to win this U.S. Open. Not from behind, and certainly not with an elbow inflammation that seems to bother him most on his worst shots.
Woods says otherwise, and after a marathon stretch of play Friday that helped him creep into contention at Merion Golf Club it's still possible he could be the one having the last say.
Trying to break a winless streak in major championships that now spans five full years, Woods played 25-plus holes in a respectable 1-over 70 to move up the leaderboard on a day when many other players were going the other way.
It wasn't good enough to get under par, or even crack the top 10. But he was just four shots back and in prime position to make a move over the weekend on an Open course that is playing much tougher than a lot of people expected.
Asked if he liked his chances, Woods didn't hesitate to answer, "Yes."
Woods had some issues on a day that began for him in the early morning and didn't finish until midafternoon. He missed some putts he might ordinarily expect to make, barely moved a chip a few inches forward, and guessed wrong on a couple of shots.
But that's U.S. Open golf, and the best player in the world stood at 3-over 143 after two rounds — the same as playing partner and budding buddy Rory McIlroy.
"I just made a couple of mistakes out there today, but I really played well," Woods said. "Maybe I could have gotten one or two more out of it, but it was a pretty good day."
The night before, Woods underwent some treatment on his left elbow, which he shook several times after hitting bad shots in the first 11 holes of a rain-delayed round. He said he hurt the elbow at the Players Championship and that it was painful at times, though on his good shots it didn't seem to bother him at all.
"It is what it is," Woods said.
McIlroy said he didn't even notice Woods was having difficulty with the elbow.
"I haven't seen anything wrong with him," McIlroy said after finishing with his own 73-70.
More worrisome than the elbow for Woods might be the fact he's never won a tournament after playing over par for the first two rounds. He's also never won a major championship coming from behind in the final round.
And then there's that winless streak in major championships that now stretches back to the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
But while Woods remains stuck at 14 in his chase of the record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, it doesn't mean he's forgotten how to win in conditions favored at the Open.
"Just keep grinding," he said. "You don't ever know what the winning score is going to be. You don't know if the guys are going to come back. We have a long way to go, and these conditions aren't going to get any easier."
The conditions Friday were challenging enough, though Woods and McIlroy got the better of the weather. For the most part, they avoided winds that started to pick up in the afternoon as the rain-saturated course began drying out.
The two are the main golf stars for Nike and have become increasingly friendly over the past few years, though they are 13 years apart in age. Woods has 12 more major titles than McIlroy, but the star from Northern Ireland has won his two during Woods' winless drought.
McIlroy said he and Woods chatted during the round, though both tried to keep focused on the task at hand. After missing a final birdie putt on their last hole, the 10th, McIlroy told Woods that he was trying to make the putt so he didn't have to play with Woods on Saturday.
"So he's got the pleasure of playing with me," McIlroy said. "But, no, we had a good laugh out there and just because it's the U.S. Open doesn't mean anything."
McIlroy, the 2011 Open champion at Congressional who has struggled this year after switching to Nike equipment, had his moments, including an iron shot to the eighth hole that gave him a tap-in birdie and put him under par for the day. But he gave it back on the next hole and had to hit a great shot out of the deep rough on his final hole to finish off his even par second round.
The kind of challenge Merion has been so far was reflected in the score of both players. They made six birdies apiece during the first two rounds, but both also made nine bogeys — an average of one in every four holes.
"It tests every aspect of your game," McIlroy said, referring to Merion. "You've got to drive it well. Where these pins are, you got to hit great iron shots. You got to be very tactical. You got to be mentally really well there and have a good game plan."
Like Woods, McIlroy was comfortable with where he was midway through the championship.
"There were people talking about 62s and 63s at the start of the week and, I mean, I never saw that at all," he said. "I still think that something very little under par is going to win this week. If or if not that, around even par."