Tiger Woods used to win golf tournaments, even majors, with his B-game.
He stopped admitting to such things once he realized that pronouncements like that really annoyed his fellow professionals.
They were, after all, trying hard and only won when they were at their absolute best, and for most of them even that wasn’t enough.
But that doesn’t mean Woods stopped beating them with that B-game.
Imagine how annoyed they’d be, then, to discover that Woods has had nothing even approaching his B-game at Merion, yet still is in the thick of the hunt at the 113th US Open?
Through two rounds, Woods has three-putted twice, and four times failed to execute the most straightforward of chips, leaving a green with the sloppiest of bogeys.
Six shots thrown away like rice confetti at a wedding on a course that’s bringing the world’s best golfers to their knees should have Woods flirting with the cut line.
But instead, at 3 over par after completing 25 holes on a marathon Friday, the world No. 1 is perched for a weekend assault at the long-in-the-making major No. 15. He was 4 shots behind Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel, who were tied for the lead at 1 under when play was suspended.
It’s helped him that Merion’s been set up by the United States Golf Association just this side of a torture chamber.
The USGA’s eliminating Woods’ rivals for him.
After Friday’s bloodbath, many good players were packing their bags, complaining that the pins for the second round weren’t set by Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, but by Tomas de Torquemada, the first Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition.
“It just enhances my disdain for how the USGA manipulates the golf course,” said Zach Johnson, who missed the cut with rounds of 74 and 77. “I’ve felt that for a while, probably since my first USGA experience. I know it going in, so I’m not shocked or surprised. It’s just unfortunate they felt that’s necessary.”
“Merion’s a tremendous golf course,” the former Masters champion said, “if you let Merion be.
“That’s not the agenda here.”
Woods didn’t disagree with Johnson, though he wasn’t as impolitic.
He acknowledged that Davis set the pins in treacherous positions to “protect the golf course with it being as soft as it is.”
Davis might have gone too far, but Woods wasn’t complaining as loudly because he didn’t fall apart as badly as others.
Graeme McDowell, whom many had installed as a pre-tournament favorite, shot 13 over par through two rounds. He had seven double-bogeys at Merion, as many as he’s had this entire year so far.
“It’s that hard, it’s that difficult, it’s that long,” he said, shaking his head.
“This place is very hard.”
He got no argument from Adam Scott.
When the players resumed in the Philadelphia chill at 7:15 a.m. ET, Scott was at 3 under par, one back of then-leader Luke Donald and six shots ahead of Woods.
By day’s end, the freshly minted Masters champion was at 7 over par.
“I got off on the wrong foot and just struggled to find my rhythm all day,” the Australian said.
Scott wasn’t the only player to note that Merion represented a return to the bad old days of tight fairways guarded by five-inch gnarly rough.
“It’s thick and it’s right next to the fairway,” he said. “I think we got a bit comfortable with that graduated rough the last few years.”
He was clearly disappointed, perhaps in part because he wanted to shine while playing in the marquee group with Woods and Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy, like Woods, was nowhere near his best, but he too finished at 3 over par and knows a third major isn’t out of the question.
“I’m very happy,” he said, “Right in there for the weekend. I don’t think I’ll be too far away by the end of the day.”
Woods didn’t think so, either.
Some thought his chances may have been undone by a pain in his elbow.
As ever with Woods, it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not when it comes to injuries.
He first winced when he hit a shot out of the rough on the very first hole of the tournament, late on Thursday.
But on Thursday night, he issued a statement saying that he was “fine.”
On Friday, however, Woods admitted he’d been in pain and that he’d injured his elbow while winning The Players last month.
Not that it was going to keep him from playing.
“Just keep grinding,” he said of his weekend strategy. “You just don’t ever know what the winning score is going to be.
"We have a long way to go and these conditions aren’t going to get any easier.”