SAN DIEGO — Tiger Woods looked like any other player trying to survive a U.S. Open, head bowed in frustration with each shot that found trouble and kept him farther from the lead.
One hole changed everything.
With his metal spikes on a cement path and a tree over his head, he fired an 8-iron around the branches and over the bunker to 18 feet for a birdie on the No. 1 hole (his 10th of the day) that sent him charging into contention at Torrey Pines on Friday.
He never missed another fairway or another green. He found a rhythm that made it hard to believe he had been missing for two months while recovering from knee surgery. And with four more birdies for a 30 on his back nine, Woods rallied for a 3-under 68 that left him one shot behind Stuart Appleby.
“I felt that if I played well in that back nine, I could definitely get back to even par for the tournament and I would be right back in the championship,” Woods said. “And all of a sudden, I started running them in from everywhere.”
Run of birdiesHe made a 20-foot birdie on No. 2, then a 25-foot birdie up the slope on No. 4, swiping the air with a clenched fist. Facing a slick putt from 18 feet above the cup on the fifth hole, it broke sharply toward the ocean at the end and disappeared for another birdie.
Even on a sore knee, Woods hit his stride.
“He wants to play some golf; we want to play some golf,” Appleby said, and then he joked: “And I'll be doing my best to accidentally throw a club toward his sore knee. It will be an accident, of course.”
Appleby had reason to smile.
He recovered from consecutive bogeys early on his back nine with birdies on the par 5s, none bigger than the 18th. He laid up into a divot and left his wedge at the bottom of the green, 45 feet away. Appleby was just trying to get it close and get off the course with a share of the lead when it dropped in for an unlikely birdie.
Appleby up by oneThat gave him a 70 and his first lead in a major since he was one shot ahead of Woods going into the final round of the 2007 Masters.
Appleby was at 3-under 139 and will play in the final group with Rocco Mediate. Mediate reached 4 under at one point before settling for a 71, one shot behind at 140.
Woods will play with Robert Karlsson, whom he defeated in a meaningless Ryder Cup match two years ago. Karlsson shot 70.
Phil Mickelson shot 75 to fall seven shots behind.
Everything changed so fast.
Woods winced and slumped his shoulders when his tee shot found the bunker on the par-3 16th, leading to bogey. Then came another shot into the greenside bunker on the 17th, and another bogey. And his tee shot on the 18th, where the tees were moved forward, landed in the bunker and made him settle for par.
That put him 3 over for the tournament at the turn, six shots behind.
“I feel like I lost three shots there, because I bogeyed 16, 17, and then I don't make a birdie on 18,” Woods said. “I said, 'If I clean up the back nine, I should be able to get back to even par for the tournament.' And I ended up two better than that.”
He had four other good looks for birdie on his back nine, but no complaints.
“I shot 30 on my back nine in a U.S. Open,” Woods said. “That's not too bad.”