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BRITISH OPEN: Jimenez grabs 36-hole lead; Tiger one shot back

The gallery at the British Open reacts to a birdie putt on the 15th hole that just missed Friday for Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is the leader after the second round at 3-under par.

The gallery at the British Open reacts to a birdie putt on the 15th hole that just missed Friday for Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is the leader after the second round at 3-under par.

GULLANE, Scotland — Wily Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez led the way and Tiger Woods ground out a second-round 71 to stay right in the mix as the British Open turned into a dogfight at Muirfield on Friday.

The early starters enjoyed the best conditions on another sun-drenched day but the course bared its teeth in the afternoon to throw up a congested leaderboard heading into the weekend.

Jimenez, 49, followed his opening 68 with a level-par 71, the cigar-loving, wine-drinking Spaniard drawing on all his experience to mix two birdies with two bogeys in a rock-steady round to finish at 3-under.

“I like to feel the pressure. As long as you can handle that, it’s no problem,” he said. “I feel comfortable.”

World No. 1 Woods made two birdies and two bogeys on the front nine and sank a 10-foot putt on the final green to finish at 2-under along with Briton Lee Westwood (68), Henrik Stenson of Sweden (70) and American Dustin Johnson (72).

Briton Martin Laird, Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello, American Zach Johnson — the first-round leader at 5-under — and Angel Cabrera of Argentina were the only other players to finish under par and will start the third round two behind Jimenez.

Woods collected birdies at the third and fifth holes but bogeys on the fourth, eighth and 11th halted his charge and the American waved his putter in frustration after wasting a birdie chance at the 12th.

He maintained his concentration, however, to par the next five holes and a fine approach shot set up a birdie on the last, which he celebrated with a trademark fist pump.

“Towards the middle part of my round I lost the pace and was blowing it past the hole,” said the 14-time major winner. “But I finally got it fixed at the end. Just got to continue plodding along. Continue being patient, putting the ball in the right spots and trying.

“We’re not going to get a lot of opportunities out there, but when I have I’ve been able to capitalise and hopefully I can continue doing that.”

Westwood, seeking a long overdue first major championship, took advantage of a hot putter to pick up six birdies over the first 12 holes.

He briefly moved to 5-under but had to settle for a round of 68 after three bogeys duringr the closing stretch.

“I was pleased to be five-under through 12,” said Westwood. “I was playing some great stuff and it was just getting harder as the holes progressed, tougher to score, tougher to get it close.

“The finish is tough — 16, 17, 18 are playing hard. So it’s like most major championships, it’s a grind out there.”

Cabrera, twice a major champion and runner-up in this year’s U.S. Masters, got to 4-under after 13 holes but dropped shots at the 14th, 15th and 18th to fall back.

Zach Johnson, who opened with a scorching 66, bogeyed four holes on the front nine but got back to 5-under before giving away another four shots, including a double-bogey six at the treacherous 15th.

Pars on the closing holes were not easy to achieve with the greens speeding up throughout the afternoon.

As the players struggled to cope with the conditions, the projected cut mark increased steadily throughout the day and was finally made at eight over.

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy will miss the weekend’s action after slumping to a 75 and a 12-over-par total, while former world number one Luke Donald finished 10-over, a 72 failing to repair the damage of his opening 80.

U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and former British Open winners Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and David Duval also missed the cut.

Only four players broke 70 on Friday — Westwood, South African Charl Schwartzel (68), American Kyle Stanley (69) and Briton Paul Lawrie (69) — setting the stage for what should be a frustrating, but fun, weekend.

MICKELSON, OTHERS STILL NOT LOVING NO. 15: Muirfield’s par-four 15th hole seemed to grate on the nerves of the players again Friday with Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Ian Poulter and Cabrera summing up the general mood of discontent.

The 448-yard hole is typical of the rest of the course in that the parched fairway is so quick it resembles an ice rink.

Then, when the players get to the green, they are confronted by a tricky pin position parked on an awkward ridge towards the back of the putting surface.

Little wonder it was rated the hardest hole on the course in the second round, with an average score of 4.582.

Cabrera, two strokes behind leader Jimenez, waved his arms in animated style after carding a bogey at the 15th before looking forlornly at his caddie as if to say, ‘What’s going on here?’

Briton Poulter gave a graphic description of the problems the green caused.

“Billy Horschel hit a putt from 15 feet which just missed the edge of the hole and went 15 feet past,” he said of his young American playing partner. “It’s really, really hard to putt it to a ‘gimme’ range.”

According to Mickelson — who sits two shots off the lead at 1-under after a 3-over day— the 15th green was so slippery it was quicker than any of the marble-like putting surfaces at the Masters.

“Augusta is 14 1/2 on the stimpmeter and some here were 15 in spots and the 15th was one,” said the American “I gave a little fist pump there because I knew I was going to have to make a 15-footer for par (if I missed).”

Defending champion Ernie Els initially described the greens at the 14th and 15th as “getting out of hand” and “not very playable” before back-tracking.

“I never said that. Where did I say it was unplayable?,” said the South African after a 74 gave him a 148 tally.

“I said it’s borderline. Please, I never used the word ‘unplayable’.”

Nicolas Colsaerts, who made his Ryder Cup debut in Europe’s thrilling victory in Illinois last September, came seriously unstuck on the 15th green.

The Belgian, who missed the cut by one stroke, signed for a nine at the hole after suffering the embarrassment of taking five putts.