Tiger Woods charged into a share of the lead in the second round of the U.S. Open on Friday as Rory McIlroy's title defense collapsed on another brutal day at the Olympic Club.
Woods had the galleries buzzing with anticipation that his major championship drought was about to end as he conjured up all his old magic to tame the notoriously difficult course and join Jim Furyk and David Toms in a three-way tie for the lead at one-under par 139.
The former world number one has not won a major in four years but the omens are good this time. Of the nine previous times Woods has led a major at the halfway state, he has gone on to win eight.
"Being patient is certainly something that we have to do in major championships and I think I've done a pretty good job of that over the years," said the 14-times major winner.
"I won my fair share, and I understand how to do it."
It was not an easy day for Woods. The 36-year-old stumbled midway through his round, making three successive bogeys on the front nine, and had to scramble hard as the Pacific Ocean winds picked up in the afternoon.
But he maintained his composure to finish with an even par 70 after Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, set the standard with a 69 and Toms, the 2001 PGA Championship winner, matched Woods with a 70 as the sun started to set in Northern California.
"I'm sure they (spectators) will be going crazy for Tiger out there this weekend and rightfully so. He brings a lot to our game," said Toms.
"I'm excited about it and I don't mind flying under the radar at all."
Four players, 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, overnight leader Michael Thompson, American John Peterson and Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium, were a further stroke back at one over on a packed leaderboard.
A total of 25 players, including major winners Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Charl Schwartzel, finished within five shots of the leaders and are poised to challenge over the weekend.
"I think a lot of guys are pretty scared of it, I don't get that feeling," said Schwartzel, who birdied his final four holes to win last year's Masters. "I got 36 holes left and I feel I have a very good chance."
There were also plenty of high-profile casualties that missed the cut at eight over, including McIlroy, Masters champion Bubba Watson and world number one Luke Donald.
McIlroy three-putted the last to finish at 10 under after missing a birdie putt that would have got him into the weekend, in stark contrast to 12 months ago when the Northern Irishman romped to victory at Congressional with a record total of 16 under.
"To be honest, overall I don't feel like I played that badly for the last two days," McIlroy said.
"It's just such a demanding golf course and just punishes the slightest shot that's off line or that's maybe not the right distance or whatever."
Watson missed the cut by a shot after a 71, hitting his final approach into a bunker then getting up and down for par when he needed a birdie.
Donald, playing in the same group as McIlroy, finished at 11 over. The Englishman shot a respectable 72 but blew his chances on the first day when he signed for a 79.
"It wasn't to be," said Donald, who is yet to win a major. "I'm trying to learn from it and come back stronger next time."
While most of the top professionals struggled to survive, Furyk showed why he is looming as a serious threat to Woods as he calmly plotted his way around the layout, undaunted by the tight fairways, thick rough and slick greens.
"I guess you have to realize at the U.S. Open that par is a really good score and you're going to make some bogeys," the 42-year-old said.
"And when I'm patient, when I'm playing well, I've had some success here."
McDowell carded a 72, although it could have been much better. The Northern Irishman made three late bogeys after getting to two under but was thrilled just to be in the hunt.
"To be honest with you, if you had offered me one over par starting on the first tee yesterday," he said. "I would have probably snapped your arm off for it."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)