Tiger sends a message with birdie on 18

Morris Service

MEDINAH, Ill. - Here comes Tiger.

Late on a wet Midwestern evening Friday, Tiger Woods, the world's No. 1-ranked golfer, bored a 25-foot putt through a layer of condensation and into the hole for a birdie at the Medinah Country Club's 18th hole that delivered a powerful message to the rest of the weekend field in the PGA Championship.

Phil Mickelson may have won the Masters. Geoff Ogilvy stole the U.S. Open from Mickelson. And three players are a shot ahead of Woods after two rounds of the PGA.

But Woods has come through the adversity of losing his father and missing the cut in a major for the first time in his professional career at the U.S. Open to win twice, including the British Open in July and his 50th PGA Tour title at the Buick Open two weeks ago.

His closing birdie, greeted with a thunderous ovation from fans around the 18th green, let the other contenders know that they'll have to go through him today and Sunday to win the PGA.

The putt gave Woods a 68 - his 12th score in the 60s in his last 13 rounds - and a two-round total of 7-under-par 137 to come within one shot of four players at 8-under 136: Americans Tim Herron (67) and Billy Andrade (69) and Europeans Henrik Stenson (68) and Luke Donald (68).

Tied with Woods are Davis Love III (69) and the Australian Ogilvy (68). Another shot back at 6-under are veterans Fred Funk (69), David Toms (67), Chris Riley (72) and Billy Mayfair (69), who continues his heartwarming comeback from recent cancer surgery.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson (71), kept pace with playing partners Woods and Ogilvy for most of the afternoon, but made three bogeys on the back nine. He matched Woods' birdie at No. 18 to finish at 4-under.

The mixture of young players and veterans and Americans and international stars on the leaderboard offer the promise of a week-end shootout - especially since the course continues to offer up low scores at a PGA-record clip.

However, Woods is on a roll that he has compared to the period between late 1999 and the first half of 2002, when he won seven majors and 23 tournaments in all.

Ironically, it was the PGA Championship at Medinah in 1999 - one of the last weeks Woods was not ranked No. 1 in the world - that began a period of dominance not seen since Jack Nicklaus was in his prime.

Woods didn't have much to say about what the weekend might hold. He stopped to talk to the media for only a brief minute after the round and said simply: "I've got to continue doing what I've been doing. I'm in good shape, one back."

After small talk about how many irons he hit off tees and the softness of the course due to day-long sprinkles of rain, Woods begged off and went to the practice range with caddie Steve Williams.

However, his fellow competitors were talking about him and weren't giving themselves ringing endorsements.