John Walton/EMPICS Sport USA's Tiger Woods on the 5th tee.
# neck and neck
Tiger's birdie blast rattles Snedeker's Open lead
A birdie on the 18th kept the American very much in the mix at the end of Day 2.

TIGER WOODS SERVED notice that he remains a major title threat, holing out for birdie from a pot bunker at the 18th on Friday to steal the spotlight of the second round at the British Open.

American Brandt Snedeker took a one-stroke lead over Australian Adam Scott at Royal Lytham with a stunning six-under par 64, matching the lowest 36-hole total in Open history at 10-under par 130 and the 18-hole course record.

But Woods, a 14-time major champion who has not won a major crown since the 2008 US Open, grabbed the glory on a day when scoring was difficult, his last swing producing another tantalysing glimpse of the form that made him a legend.

“It wasn’t as hard as it may have looked,” Woods said. “Because I was on the upslope I could take out that steepness coming off the bunker and land the ball on the flat.

“So just threw it up there, played about a cup outside the left and it landed on my spot and rolled to the right.”

The crowd in the grandstand roared as the ball fell into the cup, Woods pumping his fist and screaming in delight after his second 67 in a row left him in third on 134, four adrift of Snedeker but well placed to pounce.

“I’m very pleased at where I’m at,” Woods said. “We’re at the halfway point and I’m right there in the mix.”

Woods, chasing the all-time record 18 major titles held by Jack Nicklaus, has won all seven prior major championships in which he has started with two rounds in the 60s, most recently at the 2006 PGA Championship.

Snedeker, who missed the cut in his three prior British Open starts, has not yet suffered a bogey or plunked a shot into a bunker.

Not since Woods was on his way to winning the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews had a player started a major without a bogey in the first 36 holes.

“No bogeys around here is getting some good breaks and playing some pretty good golf,” Snedeker said. “I call it boring golf. I’m shooting away from every pin, trying to put it 25-30 feet away and hopefully make some putts.”

Snedeker, who withdrew from last month’s US Open after suffering a cracked right rib from severe coughing, equalled the 36-hole tournament record set by Nick Faldo in 1992 at Muirfield.

Snedeker also matched the 18-hole course record of 64 set by Tom Lehman in the third round in 1996 and equalled in Thursday’s first round by Scott, who fired a 67 on Friday to join Snedeker as the targets of a Woods-led chase pack.

“No matter what the conditions are, one of those guys is going to have a good day and make up ground,” Scott said. “We certainly have our work cut out, Brandt and myself, to stay ahead of that pack.”

World No. 4 Woods, mired in a four-year major win drought, has won three PGA events this year and shared the 36-hole lead at June’s US Open before fading.

This week, he has adopted a conservative style to cope with the bunkers and breezes at the links layout where such icons as Seve Ballesteros, Gary Player and Bobby Jones have hoisted the Claret Jug.

Woods birdied the fourth and sixth holes and answered a bogey at the par-5 11th with a birdie at the 16th, then took a situation at the 18th where bogey was possible and made a two-shot swing in his favour.

“Tiger Woods holing bunker shots — I guess we knew that one was in before it even got there,” 2010 US Open winner Graeme McDowell said.

“The last few groups of a major championship, playing with guys like Tiger Woods, that’s right where you want to be.”

Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen birdied the last two holes to stand fourth on 135, booking himself a Saturday penultimate pairing with Woods.

“It’s going to be something special,” Olesen said. “Just going to go out there and enjoy it and play my own game.”

Sharing fifth on 136 were McDowell, Scottish 1999 British Open winner Paul Lawrie, South African Thomas Aiken and Americans Matt Kuchar and Jason Dufner with South African Ernie Els 10th on 137.

“Snedeker has played phenomenal golf — 10-under is world class,” Lawrie said. “You’ve got to keep going and keep grinding away. Hopefully we have a couple of under-par scores over the weekend and I think you’re in there roughly with a chance.”

Steady Snedeker birdied six of the first 12 holes and avoided all 206 pot bunkers scattered across Royal Lytham for the second day in a row.

“To hit it in no bunkers around here, you have to get lucky,” Snedeker said. “I don’t expect that stat to hold over the weekend.”

Defending champion Darren Clarke was not among 83 who made the cut on 143, a 71 leaving him on 147. US left-hander Phil Mickelson fired a 78 to stand on 151 and miss only his eighth major cut, his first since the 2007 British Open.

© AFP, 2012

Read: The Open 2012: Tiger, Scott chase Open pace-setter Snedeker>

Read: The Open: Day 2 tees off with Rory, Tiger chasing Scott>