Rude: Tiger proves to be the biggest star

Tiger Woods reacts after making a birdie on the 10th hole during the second round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Friday, June 15, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Tiger Woods reacts after making a birdie on the 10th hole during the second round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Friday, June 15, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

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SAN FRANCISCO – This might be The City by the Bay, where the fog is low and trees are high and summer means cold. But on Friday afternoon at the U.S. Open, when beer flowed in galleries and thus decibels rose, a certain Hollywood buzz settled in.

We speak, of course, of the Open’s rock-star group. But it wasn’t just about Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson. It was also about their swollen entourage.

It isn’t every day that a star golfer walks inside the ropes with his new girlfriend just to watch competition in which he’s not involved. But there was the highly Q-rated Fred Couples trudging up the hills of The Olympic Club inside the yellow rope, enjoying the front-row seat, checking out his pals.

So, Fred, exactly what are you doing here?

“Watching,” he said, flashing a smile beneath the dark shades.

You might say he had fancy company traipsing nearby. Wearing a royal blue T-shirt, black cap with flat bill, large sunglasses and a couple of days of stubble was none other than Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL most valuable player.

He was so well disguised that it took this observer a couple of holes to figure out his identity. Perhaps your correspondent was fooled by the QB’s ample forearms – larger than Paul Casey’s but not quite in the Craig Parry or Rod Laver class.

It would have been easier to recognize him had he done the Discount Double Check. But no.

Despite all the star power in tow, the top of the marquee, as it so often has been, belonged to Woods. He followed his opening 69 with a three-birdie, three-bogey 70 that could have been better. Hence he enters the weekend tied for the lead, at 1 under par, with fellow major champions Jim Furyk and David Toms, both fortysomething.

The Woods-Furyk-Toms entry at the top of the board gave the impression that we had time-machined backward some 9-10 years. Had, say, names such as Singh, Els and Goosen joined them in the mix, it would have been a complete trip.

Woods came here as a 5-1 favorite and is even more of one now. Playing conservatively for the second day in a row, as if representing the Tea Party, Woods again appeared in control. That was particularly the case during his 2-under 34 on the back nine.

“That was not easy,” said Woods, in search of his 15th major-championship title and first in four years. “That golf course was some kind of quick. You just have to stay as patient as possible, and I did a really good job of that today.”

Woods again hit irons off the tee on most par-4 holes. He didn’t hit his driver until the ninth hole, using it four times total, one more than Thursday.

Though he scored a stroke higher, Woods figured he performed “probably better” because of his ball-striking, particularly down the stretch. He hit 11 fairways and 14 greens in regulation, better than Thursday on both counts.

He also handled adversity well.

He bogeyed Nos. 5 and 6, both long par 4s, after missing greens. The first especially was a giveaway, for he missed a 3 1/2-foot putt. Still, he managed to navigate the difficult first six holes in a highly respectable 1 over, thanks to a 6-foot birdie putt at the par-3 third.

Frustration grew with a third consecutive bogey at the short par-4 seventh. He three-putted from 8 downhill feet, hitting the lip of the cup twice, the second from 6 feet.

“I knew that putt was dicey,” he said of the first.

But then he recovered. He birdied 10 from 20 feet and the par-3 13th from 5. On the 609-yard 16th, he was pin-high in two shots but failed to get up and down from a bunker, where he had an awful stance.

Then he hit what seemed like a beautiful approach at the uphill par-5 17th. But his ball, which landed just in front of the green, rolled over and far down a hill. He hit a wonderful pitch to 12 feet but, putting through his giant shadow, missed left. That was for the sole lead, a position from which he has been known to succeed when there after 36 or 54 holes.

Yet, he wasn’t complaining.

“It’s a wonderful place to be with a chance to win your nation’s Open,” he said of his joint-first position.

Olympic’s difficult setup for two days has put players in survival mode. An approach to 30 feet from the cup represents a good shot on most holes. Birdies are rare, bogeys common.

Little wonder then that Woods said, “I’m just plodding along. You don’t have to make a bunch of birdies here.”

Woods clearly is controlling his ball consistently better than he has at any time since 2009, since before his personal life and then game unraveled. You could see that here by the way he has curved shots and altered trajectory.

“You have to shape it here,” he said. “I’ve done a pretty good job the first two days.”

Good enough to make it seem like old times.

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