- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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SAN FRANCISCO -- For the first time in nearly three years, Tiger Woods is in the lead after a round in a major championship.
It was once a familiar position for Woods, a place from which he almost always converted. He had a record of 8-1 when holding at least a share of a 36-hole lead at one of the four grand slam events.
Now he is back in that spot again, and the golf world awaits an interesting weekend at the Olympic Club, where Woods will attempt to win his fourth U.S. Open and 15th major championship.
"As far as being in this position, I like it," Woods said Friday. "I know it takes a bit out of us, but so be it. Much rather be there than missing cuts or just making the cut. So it's a wonderful place to be with a chance to win your nation's Open."
The only three players under par have combined for 16 major championships and are two shots ahead of 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, John Peterson, Nicolas Colsaerts and first-round leader Michael Thompson, who shot 75. There are 17 players within four strokes of the lead.
Woods last led after a round at a major after the second and third rounds of the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine in Minnesota. He had a four-stroke lead through 36 holes and a two-stroke advantage through 54 holes, but for the first time in 15 tries, he did not go on to win. South Korea's Y.E. Yang beat Woods, who has won just three times on the PGA Tour since. It was also the first time in nine tries that Woods did not convert a 36-hole lead.
This weekend is the four-year anniversary of his last major title, the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
"I think I'm in a good spot," Woods said. "Looking forward to it and going off late (Saturday), so get some good rest."
Although Woods has formidable foes to overcome in major champions Furyk, Toms and McDowell, the golf course is the main obstacle. It is playing every bit as difficult as touted, and Woods worked hard for his even-par 70 on Friday, overcoming three consecutive bogeys on the front nine with birdies at Nos.10 and 13.
Phil Mickelson, who played with Woods during the first two rounds and finished eight strokes back, noticed improvement from the last time they played together, which was the final round of February's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-am, where Lefty shot 64 to Woods' 75.
"He has great control of his ball striking," said Mickelson, who shot 71 to make the 36-hole cut of 8 over by one. "And he's able to hit a lot of the fairways. He's got a very good low shot with his long irons, 3-wood, as well as his 4-, 5- and 6-irons. He's shaping it well, getting it in play, and then he hit a lot of 4-, 5- and 6-irons into the greens, and he's doing that extremely well, too."
Woods leads the field in driving accuracy, having hit 21 of 28 fairways through two rounds. He's also tied for third in greens in regulation (25 of 36). Furyk leads in that category, which says a lot about why they're atop the leaderboard.
On a day when the top two players in the world -– Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy -– missed the cut, the 42-year-old Furyk followed a first-round 70 with a 69. The 45-year-old Toms shot 70. So far, there have been just 13 rounds in the 60s.
Thompson shot 66 on Thursday, and Stricker had a 68 on Friday. The rest have been 69s.
"The setup this week is probably indicative of the scores as far as firm and fast as it is," said Furyk, a 16-time winner on the PGA Tour who in addition to his 2003 U.S. Open win had runner-up finishes in '06 and '07. "I think if you got to this golf course and it was much softer and guys could stop their irons shots better and weren't worried about the ball rolling through the fairways, you would see some lower scoring."
Toms made two birdies on the back nine to overcome two bogeys on the front side.
"Whoever wins this golf tournament is going to be a great champion, somebody that's probably won events before, that can handle the emotions and can handle the adversity in a U.S. Open, and somebody with experience," Toms said. "At least that's what I think. You never know. Strange things can happen, but I would think that you would see a lot of that on the leaderboard come late Sunday."
Beau Hossler, a 17-year-old amateur from California, found himself alone in the lead. He went 11 holes without making a bogey until he got lost in the thick rough and the trees on the brutal front nine of Olympic and had to settle for a 73.
Woods is coming off a victory two weeks ago at the Memorial, the 73rd of his PGA Tour career and his second this year.
A year ago, he couldn't even play the U.S. Open because of injuries that kept him out for parts of four months. Woods showed steady progress through the fall and into the spring, then suffered a setback after his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, producing his worst three-tournament stretch on the PGA Tour.
But he bounced back at the Memorial, shooting a final-round 67 that included birdies on three of his last four holes.
"I'm able to shape the ball better with better trajectory control than I did at Bay Hill," Woods said of his March victory. "And that's one of the reasons I was so excited how I played at Memorial."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
15hKevin Van Valkenburg