Tiger Woods is not. Just five days after

By Doug Ferguson Associated Press Published:

Tiger Woods is not.

Just five days after winning his third consecutive major in record fashion, Woods once again found himself playing in a different tournament than everyone else, and certainly playing a different game.

He flirted with a 59 for the second day in a row. He became only the fourth man in competition to reach the 625-yard 16th in two. And he walked off Firestone Country Club by matching one record, breaking another and not even knowing it.

Woods had a 9-under 61 to tie the course record set by Jose Maria Olazabal in 1990, and his 125 set a new standard on the PGA Tour for 36 holes.

What does it all mean?

"It's taking a lot more under par to win the tournaments now," said Phil Mickelson, who had a 66 and goes into the weekend trying to make up a seven-shot deficit.

Woods pumped his fist and smiled when his 6-foot par putt on the 18th disappeared into the cup, as if he were aware there were records at stake.

Not true.

"I didn't want to finish with a bogey for the second day in a row," he said. "I'm just trying to hit good, solid shots. I just want to get the 'W."'

That shouldn't be too difficult.

The seven-stroke lead is the largest of his career, and the largest on tour since Olazabal led by nine strokes at Firestone in 1990 in what was then the World Series of Golf. His 125 broke the record of 126 previously held by six players _ it was first set by Tommy Bolt in the 1954 Virginia Beach Open, and last matched by David Frost in the 1999 St. Jude Classic.

Only four other players have had a 125 in consecutive rounds, but not the first two.

"He's been playing so well, it's not like we're in shock," said Jim Furyk, who played with Woods on Friday _ or at least walked in the same fairway as Woods.

Mickelson finished one stroke behind Woods in the NEC Invitational last year. And while Woods appears invincible this week, Mickelson wasn't about to declare the tournament over.

"A little disappointing you would even bring that up," said Mickelson, who had a 66. "One of my thought processes was, 'Listen, if I can make some birdies, I can get in the final group.' I think there's some real benefits to that."

Justin Leonard had a 67 and was at 133, while Furyk had a 69 and was another stroke back. Woods had a six-stroke lead after 36 holes in the U.S. Open, and went on to win by 15. He led by three strokes at the halfway mark of the British Open and won by eight.

The 37-man field is for Presidents Cup and U.S. Ryder Cup team members, plus the top 12 Europeans from the European tour money list. It is a small gathering of elite players, but Woods is in a class by himself.

His approach shots hit their mark as easily as someone shooting free throws. Drives were long and shaped perfectly down the tree-lined fairways of Firestone. Woods played out the shots in his mind, and executed them to near perfection.

"You have an idea of where you want to put the golf ball," he said. "When you're able to do that, that's when the game looks easy."

Proof of that came on No. 16, a 625-yard hole known as "The Monster." In the first round, Woods nailed his drive but decided against going for the green from 285 yards away. He also noticed that a little more to the right, and his drive would catch a slope.

So on Friday, he aimed a little more right, caught the slope and wound up only 269 yards from the pin.

"Go for it," screamed the gallery, perhaps aware that only three players have ever reached the green in two during competition _ Arnold Palmer, Raymond Floyd and John Daly.

Make it four.

Woods caught his 2-iron as pure as can be, slapped hands with caddie Steve Williams and watched as the ball landed 8 feet directly behind the flag, then bounced twice into thick ground behind the green.

"I only had 256 to carry, which I know I can hit that if I hit it solid," Woods said. "The hard part was a slight downhill lie, which meant that I really had to stay committed to the shot, and possibly even release it a little early to get some more loft on it. I hit it flush."

His chip grazed the lip of the cup for a tap-in birdie.

That epitomized the entire round. Mickelson had the lead early on with a birdie-eagle start, but that didn't last long. Woods hit an 8-iron from 176 yards into the par-5 second hole and made the 12-footer for eagle, then birdied three straight starting on No. 4 to leave everyone else in his wake.

"Phenomenal," said Colin Montgomerie. "I can only see that gap

widening."

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