LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Jack Nicklaus turned back the clock for a while yesterday in the 82nd PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. Tiger Woods turned on the heat and, as he did at similar points in this year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and last month's British Open at St. Andrews, charged into the lead.
Woods shot a 5-under-par 67 in the second round to wrestle the lead away from first-round co-leader Scott Dunlap. It gave Woods a two-round total of 11-under 133, pushing him one stroke ahead of Dunlap. Woods is four strokes in front of 1997 PGA champion Davis Love, former Maryland golf coach Fred Funk, and J. P. Hayes.
No offense to those in closest pursuit, but it appears to many that Woods is heading for his second straight victory in this tournament and is 36 holes away from becoming the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three of golf's four major championships in the same year.
"I don't think Tiger is too concerned with anybody else," Hayes said long before Woods had finished last night. "That is what seems to happen when a guy is the best player in the world. Everybody looks at him and you can just tell that he is not looking at anybody else."
That is not exactly true. Woods appeared to be paying attention to Nicklaus the past two days in their historic pairing, particularly yesterday. Nicklaus, who along with the legendary Walter Hagen had won this tournament a record five times, was even outplaying Woods early on.
It began when Nicklaus stuck a 5-iron within 2 feet on the opening hole and made the putt for birdie. It continued when he made a curling 20-footer for birdie on No. 2. The roars didn't stop as he made three straight saves for par, sandwiching two delicate chips around a 10-foot putt.
Despite a pair of bogeys on the back nine that put him back to 4-over, Nicklaus never wavered. When he nearly holed out for eagle from 60 yards away on the par-5 18th, the ball spinning inches from the cup, Nicklaus closed out his 37-year history in the tournament with a birdie.
But he was disappointed that a 1-under 71 had left him one stroke above the projected cut of 3-over 147. Still, considering that he had played right after the death of his 90-year-old mother on Wednesday, it likely was one of his most heroic performances.
Asked where that wedge shot ranked among his defining moments, Nicklaus said, "It ranks one short of making the cut. ... It is nice to make a birdie on the last hole, if it's going to be my last hole in major championship golf. It may or may not be. It was certainly a nice way to end the year."
It was memorable to those who watched it unfold. Woods did, standing to the side of a green-side bunker where his ball lay buried in the sand. Thinking about his next shot, Woods couldn't help but watch Nicklaus and understand the significance.
"It was pretty cool," Woods said. `I had a perfect vantage point to see him hit his little wedge shot. Everybody on the embankment, the sun setting ... it was kind of neat just to look at the sight and take it all in. But then again, I was actually pretty angry that my ball was buried."
Woods managed to extricate himself from trouble and gave himself a 15-foot birdie putt. When he made it, raising his putter high, Nicklaus pointed at Woods and gave him a thumbs-up sign. The birdie gave Woods the lead over Dunlap, who earlier had narrowly missed a 50-foot eagle to finish at 4-under 68 for the day.
"I just wanted to end on a good note after that wonderful three-putt [bogey] on 17," Woods said. "Just at least make me feel a little bit better coming off the round, because I played well today." When I left the 17th green, I think the word I would use is perturbed -- to the 10th power."
Had Nicklaus made the cut, maybe the PGA of America would have considered scrapping the usual practice and kept this historic pairing together for the weekend. It would certainly have taken some of the pressure off Dunlap, who will get another taste of Tigermania.
"I played with Tiger at the Open at Congressional [in 1997]," said Dunlap, 37. "It was a different situation. We were in good shape in the tournament but certainly not in the last group. He has won more majors than I have made cuts. It will be old hat for him and a new experience for me."
Then again, Dunlap is a two-time Masters and two-time Open champion. So what if they were the Canadian and South African Masters in 1995, and the Peru and Argentine Open last year? Dunlap even had a Woods-like 10-shot victory in the Canadian Masters, so he knows about blowouts.
"I don't think there will be too many bookies taking bets on Scott Dunlap," said Dunlap, who is winless in four years on the PGA Tour.
The way things have gone lately for Woods, it's doubtful that anybody will bet against him.