LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – With a nifty shot out of the bunker and an emphatic pump of his clenched fist, Tiger Woods made one thing clear: He's right back in the hunt for a 15th major championship.
Now, he's got to show he can finish the job on the weekend, which used to be a mere formality.
After Brandt Snedeker romped to another bogey-free round, with Adam Scott right on his heels, Woods provided the most memorable moment of Friday's second round just as the light was beginning to fade at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
He set it up by dumping his approach at No. 18 into a greenside trap. Then, with everyone figuring he'd settle for no better than par, Woods swooped the ball just over the lip of the bunker, up onto the green, where it bounced a couple of times and rolled right in the cup for a birdie.
Woods let out a scream and thrust his fist skyward, having closed within four strokes of Snedeker's 36-hole score heading to the weekend.
"I'm very pleased where I'm at," Woods said. "We're at the halfway point and I'm right in the mix."
And what a weekend it could be — especially if, by chance, Woods and Scott should end up in the final group on Sunday.
Woods' longtime caddie, Steve Williams, now works for Scott. There's no love lost between two guys who used to be so close, until Woods' personal life fell apart, his game got off track and he fired the one who'd been on his bag most of his career.
Before we get all worked up about the possibilities, let's not forget that Woods was in even better position just a month ago at the U.S. Open. Tied for the lead, he played in the last group on Saturday at Olympic, but a dismal 75 knocked him out of contention. He was never a threat in the final round, stretching the drought to four years since his last major championship in 2008.
Woods is feeling good about his chances at this claustrophobic course in northwestern England. He avoided the dreaded bunkers over his first 35 holes, and bailed himself out when he finally found the sand. He's missed only two fairways off the tee, showing time and time again he's willing to sacrifice distance for the sake of control. He's largely avoided the treacherous rough, knowing that's like assessing yourself a penalty.
"I figured I had a game plan that I thought would fit well on this golf course, and I figured I could execute it," Woods said. "I've done that so far. It's just patience on a golf course like this."
But he's still got some work to do.
Snedeker, who had never even made the cut in three previous Open appearances, breezed through two near-perfect rounds, nary a bogey on his card. He shot a 6-under 64 for a 10-under 130 total, equaling the major championship record for lowest score through 36 holes.
Up to now, his best run in a major came at the 2008 Masters, where he faded to a tie for third and broke down in tears when it was over.
Maybe he'll be smiling this time, posing with the claret jug.
"It wasn't an easy day that day at Augusta. It was real tough," Snedeker recalled. "This weekend, I feel prepared. I've been in some pretty tight spots in the States and I've been playing in playoffs and playing against the best players in the world, stuff like that. I kind of know what pressure feels like. Obviously, it's going to be a lot more over the weekend, but I've got something to fall back on."
Scott was nearly as good over the first two days. He put up another dazzling round, a 67 leaving him just one stroke off the lead he held after the opening day.
Like Snedeker, the Aussie is still chasing his first major title.
"Why not me?" Scott said. "I felt very confident coming in here."
On another calm day when the only concern was the pools forming in the bottom of pot bunkers from overnight rain, Snedeker equaled a course record that had first been matched by Scott just 24 hours earlier and became the first player to go bogey-free in the opening two rounds of a major since Woods won at St. Andrews in 2000.
Even more amazing? Snedeker hasn't hit into any of the 206 bunkers in two days.
"Brandt is a momentum-type guy, once he gets going and starting making putts and hitting shots," Mark Calcavecchia said. "He plays quick and he's got the quick tempo and he putts quick. And they go in quick. That's awesome golf."
Scott bogeyed the third hole for the second straight day, and then turned it around by smashing a 3-wood that bounced off a hillock to the right of the green on the par-5 seventh hole and set up a two-putt birdie. Scott opened the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then hit two beautiful shots to 8 feet for another birdie on the 18th.
"Why I've played good this week is kind of a culmination of everything I've done over the last couple of years," Scott said. "I feel like this is the path I've been going down, and just happens to have happened here that I've put myself in good position after two days at a major."
He didn't put much significance into his position at the halfway point.
"You look at the names that are five and six shots back, and it means even less," he said.
The biggest name was Woods, who'll find out if his record in the majors still means anything. This was the eighth time he has opened a major with two rounds in the 60s, and he went on to win on the seven previous occasions — including all three of his Open titles.
He will be in the penultimate group with Thorbjorn Olesen, a 22-year-old Dane who won for the first time this year on the European Tour. He closed with two birdies, knowing that the last one would give him a 66 and a chance to play with Woods, his idol.
The forecast, which cannot be trusted in these parts, is for mostly sunny skies and perhaps enough wind to fly a kite on the shoreline of the Irish Sea. The blustery conditions are to arrive Sunday, which would make all those bunkers and the high grass even tougher to avoid and possibly allow others to get into the mix.
"All of us would like to see some more British Open-like conditions," said Matt Kuchar, one of five players six shots back. "Everybody would like to have a little bit more wind just to test us a little bit more out here."
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963