Oppressive heat doesn’t stop Tiger

Funny that Tiger Woods should have brought up Southern Hills after his second round in the oppressive heat and humidity of Congressional Country Club on Friday.

The 2007 PGA Championship in Tulsa was, by far, the hottest I’ve been on a golf course — triple-digit temperatures and humidity that soaked the shirt on your back within moments.

Conditions so stifling that John Daly couldn’t enjoy a cigarette and didn’t step foot on the course until his opening tee shot.

“It’s too hot to practice. I’ve been playing slots over at Cherokee Casino,” Daly said of his preparation.

“Did good the first day; didn’t do too good the other day.”

Sort of like how his tournament went.

But Woods “did good” on all the days, winning that major because he survived better than anyone else.

And he was at it again Friday, thrusting himself back into contention at the AT&T National after an impressive 3-under-par 68, shot as the mercury touched 104 and sent fans scampering for shade. He finished five strokes behind leader Hunter Mahan, who shot a 6-under 65.

His performance, which left him in a tie for eighth midway through the day, allowed him the opportunity to extol the virtues of his fitness.

Woods is sensitive about the criticism he receives for spending so much time working out. Running has been blamed for exacerbating his knee and Achilles problems, and there are many who think his beefed-up body isn’t ideal for golf.

Woods, of course, doesn’t agree.

“That’s why I train, that’s why I run all those miles,” he said.

“If you’re carrying a little bit of body fat, it’s going to be a little bit of insulation out there. This is when fitness does help, and I figure that’s one of the reasons why I’ve had the success I’ve had in the elements.

“I think it’s one of the reasons why I had success at Southern Hills, because I felt physically fit, didn’t have a problem with it.”

Woods acknowledged that on exacting days like Friday — and on a course that’s set up like a US Open — players’ games are tested but so, too, does it become a mental test.

“You’re going to be out here for probably six hours, seven hours, and it’s a long day, it’s going to be tough,” he said.

Woods got a few breaks, teeing off early, beating the worst of the heat, and rolling in a nearly 50-footer for eagle on the par-5 16th, his seventh hole of the round.

“I was waiting for it to feed back (to the hole) because it was hanging, hanging, hanging, and then it just fell right in,” he said.

But Woods pointed to the par saves he made on the two previous holes as the most pivotal plays of his round.

They weren’t just garden-variety up-and-downs.

After missing the fairway with a 3-wood on 14th, Woods hit a wedge from 70 yards to three feet and on the next, another long par 4, Woods saved par from six feet after a pinpoint wedge from 100 yards.

“The pars at 14 and 15 were something I needed to have happen,” Woods said.

“I hit two good wedge shots in there after two poor drives and gave myself a couple good looks, made those, and then I rewarded all that hard work at the next hole with an eagle.

“I thought that today I got more out of my round. On a golf course like this, you’re not going to hit it perfect all day, it’s just too difficult. You’re going to have to make some saves. Today I did.”

Not coincidentally, Woods’ putter cooperated in making those saves.

He took just 27 putts, crediting his old Stanford teammate Notah Begay with helping him on the practice green.

“We were working on a few things the other day and liked what I was doing,” he said.

“Today felt very comfortable. It was one of those days where you just stay patient.

“You shoot something in the 60s, and I think that would have been a good score. I shot 68 today, which was, I thought, a very good score.

“I’m only three back.

“I’m right there.”

Of course, he was right there after two rounds at the Olympic Club two weeks ago, too.