By Steve Silverman
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This is much more like it.

Tiger Woods shares the lead at the halfway point of the U.S. Open and only three players are under par.

The best golfers in the world are being humbled by the Olympic Course in San Francisco and its superfast greens. There’s something comforting about that fact because most the large majority of amateur players struggle to play bogey golf under the best of circumstances. Normally when you turn on your television and see the top pros busting 325-plus yard drives and snaking in 35-footers on the green, you are amazed at their prowess.

That prowess is almost always significantly less at the U.S. Open. Last year was an exception, when Rory McIlroy made a shambles of the tournament with a score of 16-under, but this year it’s a challenge to shoot par.

It would not be a shocker if the winning score was in the plus-one to plus-three range. Pars are big events on this course and birdies are cause for celebration.

It takes a great game to hold it together at Olympic, and it takes an even stronger mind. There’s almost no way to avoid trouble on this course, and trouble costs even the best golfers. There will be times when the leaders of this tournament will shoot back-to-back bogeys or worse, but it’s the golfer who goes to the following hole with his confidence intact who will find a way to survive come primetime on Sunday night.

Interest will be high and the national championship finishing rounds should have the highest ratings in years because of Woods’ presence. Love him or hate him, Woods is the most compelling figure in the game and even casual sports fans are drawn to see him play.

Woods, Jim Furyk and David Toms share the lead through 36 holes. These veteran players all have the ability to roll with the punches and come back for more. They are likely to accept the difficult conditions and still find a way to play their best games. But there are no guarantees and there are others lurking further back in the field who will be able to challenge.

Familiar names like Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar, Charl Schwartzel, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington are all within five shots of the lead. A player can go from five back to within one shot of the lead within a hole or two under some circumstances, and fast swings are likely.

Woods, of course, is pursuing the 15th major championship of his career and his first in four years. When Woods has had the lead or a share of it in past majors at the halfway point, he has only given up that lead one time. His once-erratic swing appears to be grooved again as he has put himself in position to make pars and challenge for birdies on a consistent basis.

Furyk may be the golfer who most viewers will feel a kinship. While the majority of the golfers playing the final 36 holes have swings that are well-crafted and clearly professional, Furyk’s swing has never been a classic.

Toms is one of those steady-as-he-goes type of players. While other players will try to bomb it down the fairway and may attempt the near-impossible shots on occasion, that is not Toms. He will play the steady game and he has no interest in being the longest hitter. It’s somewhat boring for the average fan, but boring can keep a player on track and allow him to shoot par after par. That can win the national championship.

The golf course is clearly winning the U.S. Open at the halfway point. But all the remaining players will be familiar with its speed and treachery from this point forward, and someone will emerge over the weekend who will put the adversity behind and come up with a championship performance.

Toms said that the course is so tough that it would almost certainly require a golfer who has won big events before and someone who can handle adversity.

You have to be able to bounce back to win majors in general, and this U.S. Open in particular. Here’s one vote for Woods remaining in contention through hole No. 72 — and perhaps beyond — to turn this into the most compelling golf drama in years.

Do you think that Woods will take his first major in four years at the U.S. Open? Offer your thoughts and comments in the section below…


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