AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods broke into a wide smile and began chuckling.
He hasn't had much reason to laugh lately, but it's amazing what two days back in his natural habitat will do.
Did he like his position at the midway point of the Masters?
"Yeah, I do," he said, nodding his head and grinning, "Yes."
Of all the wild stories that have surrounded him these past months, has any cocktail waitress come up with any more outlandish than Woods returning from disgrace to win a fifth green jacket?
And yet, there he was, ready to pounce after a controlled round of 70 left him at six under par for the tournament in a tie for third.
Woods trailed only two Englishman, both in search of a breakthrough major. His friend Lee Westwood, and golf's peacock, Ian Poulter, were both at eight under par. Westwood got it to 10 under par after 13 holes but fell back after two poor drives while Poulter played very well, the only blemish a short missed par putt on the last green.
But there are no prizes for guessing whose name was echoing throughout the Georgia pines as the world awaits what promises to be an unforgettable weekend.
"The oddsmakers got to like Tiger Woods, I think," said Woods' playing partner, Matt Kuchar.
"It was impressive. I thought he played very solid golf; there were no weaknesses. A few chip shots he looked like he could have been maybe a little rusty with some touch, but other than that, I mean his all-around game was great.
"He's a hell of a player. I think that after he won the (2008) U.S. Open on one leg we all realized that he could pretty much do anything. And never would we really second-guess his ability on the golf course. It's pretty amazing."
Woods' score may have been two shots worse than his opening round, but it was almost as if they were playing a different Augusta National on Friday. The old Southern belle got nasty; not nearly as hospitable as she'd been the day before.
Until Poulter came in with a 68, Woods had tied the lowest score of the day as the field scoring average ballooned to 2 1/2 shots over par.
"I felt more comfortable because I was hitting the ball better and I was putting better, even though I didn't shoot as low a score," Woods said.
"I think that's a factor of the conditions. Conditions were so much more difficult today. As you can see the scores, guys are not tearing this place apart like they were yesterday. Thirty guys were under par yesterday, and that's not going to be the case today."
It was certainly not the case for the sentimental favorites, the Old Guys, Fred Couples and Tom Watson.
The 50-year-old Couples began with the lead, at six under par, got it to seven under, but three straight bogeys to finish his round left with him at three under after two days.
"Kind of not a whole lot of fun at the moment," said the normally laid-back Couples, "As soon as I get home and lay down I'll be fine, but right now I'm tired and pissed off, to be honest with you."
The 60-year-old Watson followed his first-round 67 with a one-over-par 73 on a day when another old-timer, Sandy Lyle, followed a 69 with an 86.
"I made some mistakes today. That hurt," Watson said.
"I'm disappointed that I didn't do as well as I could have today. Yesterday I got about as much out of the round as I could. That was one of those rounds that I got more out of the round basically than I should have gotten. Today I got less out of the round than I should have gotten. It kind of evened out the last two days."
Joining Woods in the peloton at six under par were KJ Choi, who played with Woods and Kuchar through two rounds, Ricky Barnes and Anthony Kim, a gunslinger whose only goal in golf seems to be making more birdies than bogeys and bypassing pars altogether.
And, significantly, also lurking along with Woods is Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson had a Friday 71 which should've been a few shots better if not for a few careless moments, including a blown par putt on the fifth hole from just outside a foot.
He's been largely anonymous this season, but Mickelson's always a factor at Augusta and figures to be again this weekend.
"I just love this place," he said.
"I feel like I'm right on the cusp of really having a good round. As soon as a couple of those 12- to15-footers fall, I think I can get in the mid-60s."
Woods, who suffers from allergies, for the first time in his career wore sunglasses at a major for much of his round on Friday to keep pollen from getting in his eyes.
"The pollen is just killing my eyes," he said, "I've been sneezing and hacking all week."
Not that kind of hacking.
Never that kind of hacking.