Tiger Woods wipes his forehead after completing his final round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship at Bethpage State Park's Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y., Monday, June 22, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
BETHESDA, Md. -- The best of Tiger Woods came Friday when his game was falling apart.
Woods lived up to his hopes of being a "greedy host" when he salvaged his round during a shaky stretch in the middle and shot 4-under 66 to take a one-shot lead at his AT&T National with the lowest 36-hole score ever at Congressional Country Club.
"Either I hit it pretty close to the hole, within 10 feet, or I was missing greens," Woods said. "So it was a little bit of two ends today. It was nice to actually get a score out of it."
Woods was at 10-under 130, breaking by one shot the previous 36-hole score at Congressional set last year by Tom Pernice Jr. and Jeff Overton.
Woods had a one-shot lead over Rod Pampling, who had a 64 to boost his chances of qualifying for the British Open.
Defending champion Anthony Kim couldn't build on his course-record 62 from the opening round. He played in the afternoon, after Woods set the target, and caught him briefly before missing too many fairways and having to settle for a 70 that put him two behind.
Jim Furyk, adding more star power to the leaderboard, had a 67 and was along in fourth.
Perhaps more daunting than Woods' record 36-hole score is his record on the PGA Tour when he has at least a share of the 36-hole lead. He is 31-6, having won the last 11 times from that spot dating to 2004 at the Byron Nelson Championship.
While some of the birdies were pure, such as 5-iron within 4 feet of a tucked flag on the 13th, it was his worst golf that showed why Woods contends as often as he does.
He twice hit tee shots into the rough and couldn't get to the green. Another tee shot went into the bunker. He missed the green at a par 3 on the wrong side of the hole. From the middle of the fairway, he hit a miserable shot into a hollow of thick grass.
Woods played that five-hole stretch in 1 under.
"That's why the guy is at such a high level," said U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover, who played with Woods and shot 66 to join the group at 5-under 135. "When things are going bad, he can rely on his short game. He just doesn't waste any shots. If he's losing shots, it's because of a bad break or a bad lie."
There were ample opportunities to fall back.
Unable to reach the 17th green from a thick lie in the rough, Woods holed a 6-foot par putt.
He pushed his 3-wood into the right rough on the 18th and had to punch under some limbs and let the ball roll toward the green, but not too far because of water all around it. He putted from off the green 70 feet away and knocked in a 5-footer for par.
The birdie came from a fairway bunker, the ball spinning back to pin-high, 5 feet away. Then came a scary chip from the side of a mound, which he flopped with enough spin to tap in a 2-footer. And on the third hole, having short-sided himself again, Woods pitched perfectly to a green running away from him and saved another par with a 4-foot putt.
"That's how you keep yourself in a golf tournament," Woods said. "I made a couple of big putts -- 17, 18, good up-and-down on 2 -- and it kept me going. I played well early, and it's all about keeping your momentum."
Woods will play in the final pairing of the third round with Pampling, a familiar face from their many morning practice rounds at the majors. Pampling was in the first group off Friday morning, ran off three birdies through five holes, and didn't get unsettled by a lone bogey when he missed the fairway on the sixth hole, which plays as a par 4 at 516 yards.
"I just didn't do anything wrong and kept myself out of trouble," Pampling said.
He has two weeks left to try to qualify for the British Open, but would need at least a runner-up finish this week to have a chance. Otherwise, he is headed for the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.
Most eyes were behind Pampling, however, with the prospects of a Woods-Kim shootout at Congressional. Kim is regarded as the most promising young American to challenge Woods, and despite a swing that deserted him midway through the round, he's only two behind. "I hate the way I hit the ball today," Kim said. "My swing got loose and I couldn't find it out there. If I can stay focused and stay positive, I'll be in good shape."
Kim spent the rest of the afternoon on the range, pounding tee shots until he found a fix.
"Man, I didn't hit one like that all day," he said after one shot.
A dozen players were separated by five shots, including U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee, who had a 67. Even so, it starts with a familiar name at the top.
"He can be playing great and then you really don't have a lot of chance of beating him," Pampling said. "And then he's just playing so-so and he's still right there with a chance to win coming down the last nine holes. He's just amazing how consistent he is."
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