BETHESDA, Md. – A punishing golf course. Temperatures that topped 100 degrees. Hunter Mahan still managed to make Friday at Congressional feel like a breeze.
Mahan finally had a good score to match the efficient way he has been swinging. He made seven birdies in the stifling heat for a 6-under 65, giving him a two-shot lead going into the weekend at the AT&T National as he goes after a PGA Tour-leading third win of the year.
Chris Couch sought medical attention and struggled to finish in the oppressive conditions. One caddie had to stop after nine holes, and another vomited to the side of the 13th green from drinking too much water.
Tiger Woods stayed in the game with a 68 in the morning, when it was still so hot that towels were used to wipe sweaty faces more than to clean clubs. He talked about the value of staying fit and strong to survive days like this. He was five shots behind.
Mahan, though, has set himself apart for two days.
“I hit a lot of good shots,” said Mahan, who missed only two fairways and three greens. “I hit so many fairways and greens, I made it easy on myself. This is a pretty punishing golf course if you get off line a little bit. I put myself in some great spots to make putts. And I felt like I played well on the back (nine), when it was getting really hot and you’re getting a little bit more tired.”
Mahan, who twice had to save par over the last five holes, was at 7-under 135. His two rounds fulfilled what his swing coach, Sean Foley, said Thursday when describing his ball-striking as “a laser show.”
Robert Garrigus had his sixth straight sub-par round at Congressional – that includes last year at the U.S. Open when he became only the fourth American to break par all four rounds of a U.S. Open – with a 67 and was two shots behind, along with Jimmy Walker and Brendon De Jonge, who each had a 69.
Stewart Cink, who draped a towel over his head waiting his turn to putt on the 14th green, showed signs of a resurgence with a 68 that put him in the group three shots behind, along with Vijay Singh (70), Pat Perez (69) and Rod Pampling (67).
Woods was in a tie for 11th at 2-under 140.
More telling than only 18 players who remained under par was the cut at 148. It was one shot higher than the cut for the U.S. Open last year at Congressional, and it was the highest score to make the cut at a regular PGA Tour event since 149 at The Barclays in 2009.
Congressional was tough – fast and firm on the course, scorching in the air – but it was fair.
Woods was three shots behind when he finished, and didn’t expect to fall back much further. The course, already looking like it was supposed to play last year for the U.S. Open, was getting firm and crusty. And high heat was expected well into the weekend, making this a test of survival.