BETHESDA -- Colin Montgomerie backed up. John Daly walked off. Tom Lehman took the lead. But the story in the rain-soaked second round of the 97th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club was the same one that's been written for the past year. For much of his 21 years, to be exact.
It was the story of Tiger Woods.
After nearly shooting his way out of contention, and possibly out of the tournament over the last six holes Thursday afternoon, Woods shot his way back onto the leader board and certainly in the hunt for his second consecutive major championship victory as a pro.
Though he stumbled at the finish with two bogeys on the last three holes, in part because of a nearly 2 1/2 -hour rain and lightning delay, a 3-under-par 67 left Woods at 1-over 141, four strokes behind Lehman and even with Montgomerie after 36 holes.
Woods' round could have even been better. After two double bogeys and two bogeys down the stretch left him with an opening-round 74, Woods began with birdies on four of his first seven holes and a 31 on the front nine. The reigning Masters champion got to 5-under for the day and 1-under for the tournament through 15 holes.
"I knew going out today I had to shoot a good number and try to get myself back to even par for the tournament," said Woods, who bogeyed right before and right after the rain delay. "I did one better than that. Unfortunately, I had three holes to go and just couldn't quite hold it."
Asked how the rain delay affected him, Woods said, "It had an effect because we all had momentum. And they call it when you know there's no rain coming down. I think it hurt all of us because we didn't have any momentum hitting one of the toughest tee shots on the golf course."
The siren sounded at 11: 51 a.m. An angry Lehman, who already had teed his ball, had to stop as he prepared to hit the shot on the downhill 480-yard, par-4 17th, considered the course's signature hole. When Lehman, Woods and defending champion
Steve Jones went back on the tee at 2: 14 p.m., all three had problems. Jones had the most trouble of all.
Jones triple-bogeyed the 17th and finished at 75--147. Woods bogeyed the 17th after three-putting from 35 feet, then nearly went into the water with his tee shot at the par-3 18th for the second straight round. This time, the soggy grass kept his ball trouble-free and he managed par. Lehman bogeyed the hole to finish at par for the day and 3-under 137 for the first 36 holes.
The reigning British Open champion has a one-stroke lead over former Open champion Ernie Els and PGA Tour rookie Stewart Cink, both of whom shot 67. Jeff Maggert, after a second-round best 66, is two shots behind. Montgomerie, the first-round leader at 5-under 65, had his tee time pushed back by the rain and finished at 6-over 76, in a group of seven.
"The game plan doesn't change," said Lehman, 38, who finished tied for second last year. "This course is too severe to change what you're doing. What I'm doing is working on putting it in play and putting on the green and then just taking my chances, so I'm not going to change that at all."
With 45 players on the course when play was suspended at 8: 31 p.m., the cut was projected to be made at 7-over par 147. Play will resume at 7 this morning. Aside from Jones, who also finished second last year, others who likely won't be around for the weekend include former Open champion Corey Pavin (74--148), two-time British Open champion Greg Norman (79--154) and Senior Tour star Dave Stockton (78-154), who won the PGA Championship when it was played here in 1976.
Jones didn't have the most trouble with the delay. That dubious distinction likely belonged to Montgomerie. After making only one bogey on Thursday, the 33-year-old Scot didn't make a single birdie yesterday and glared at fans behind the ninth green after he thought they cheered his missing a short birdie putt.
"You get geared up to go at 12: 20 and instead it's almost 3 o'clock," said Montgomerie. "It's no excuse, but it didn't help. I'm still right in the middle of it, but I'll regroup."
At least one player -- Daly -- didn't wait around for the rain to end. The troubled former PGA and British Open champion, who recently returned to the tour after spending two months undergoing treatment for alcoholism, left the course at the turn. He withdrew after shooting a 3-over 38 on the front, and was 10-over for the tournament.
Among those who couldn't complete their rounds but who remain in contention were Zimbabwe's Mark McNulty, who started at 3-under and was at 2-under through 14 holes; former PGA champion Hal Sutton, who went from 4-under at the start to 1-under through 15 and tied with David Ogrin, who began the round at even-par and played all but one hole; Scott Hoch, who is at even-par after playing the first 15 holes, also Hideki Kase, who played 10 holes at 3-over and is at 1-over.
"Actually anyone that is even 3-over par is in the running," said Woods.
Woods is more than just in the running. Except for his back nine Thursday -- reminiscent of the 40 he shot on the opening nine holes at this year's Masters -- Woods would be seemingly in control of completing the second leg of a Grand Slam. Now he is merely in position to become the first player since Jack Nicklaus, in 1972, to win the Masters and Open back-to-back.
It will be the story of the next 36 holes at Congressional.
Just as Woods has been a story for most of his 21 years.
97th U.S. Open
Tom Lehman 67-70137 -3
and selected followers
Ernie Els 71-67138 -2
Stewart Cink 71-67138 -2
Jeff Maggert 73-66139 -1
Tiger Woods 74-67141 +1
C. Montgomerie 65-76141 +1
Jack Nicklaus 73-71144 +4
Nick Faldo 72-74146 +6
Greg Norman 75-79154 +14
Nicklaus 7 shots back, still charms crowds. 10c
All kinds make up the 3,600 volunteers needed for event. 10c
Daly walks off course, citing fatigue. 11c
Pub Date: 6/14/97