Dublin: Four-times champion Tiger Woods looked close to his very best in tough conditions at the Memorial tournament on Friday, ending a gruelling second round one shot behind pacesetting South African Rory Sabbatini.
In pursuit of a 73rd PGA Tour victory and his second this year, Woods carded a three-under-par 69 at a wet and windy Muirfield Village Golf Club, finishing level with fellow Americans Scott Stallings (73) and Spencer Levin (72).
"I'm pleased with the way I played today," Woods told reporters after mixing five birdies with a double-bogey at the par-three 12th. I missed a couple out there, but overall I knew in these conditions to shoot something in the 60s was going to be a pretty good effort."
Sabbatini was one stroke better at six-under on 138, having had to settle for a second successive 69 after missing a five-foot birdie putt at the last. Several big names, however, struggled on the soggy, ultra-long Muirfield Village layout with Masters champion Bubba Watson and world number two Rory McIlroy, winner of last year's U.S. Open, among those missing the cut.
American Steve Stricker, who clinched last year's Memorial tournament, carded a 70 to finish at one under, one stroke better than British world number one Luke Donald (73).
Woods began the day four shots behind first-round leader Stallings but drew level at the top with three birdies in his first six holes, pumping his right fist in delight when he sank a 26-footer at the par-four sixth.
Out in three-under 33, he wasted a chance to snatch the outright lead by missing a four-foot birdie putt at the par-five 11th, his ball sliding past the left edge.
Woods dropped out of the lead with a double-bogey at the 12th, where he overhit the green to the left and needed two chip shots from tangly rough to reach the green before missing a 12-foot putt, but he swiftly recovered.
He knocked in five-footers to birdie the 15th and 16th and parred the last two holes to remain one stroke off the pace.
"I hit the ball well all day, and it was a day that I needed to," Woods said, after play had earlier been suspended for just under two hours due to heavy rain and thunderstorms.
"The wind was blowing out there and it was swirling in those trees. It was just a tough day. I figured anything under par was going to be a good score."
Sabbatini, a six-times winner on the PGA Tour, took over at the top when he drained an eight-foot birdie putt at the par-five 15th and then parred the last three holes to retain control.
"It feels good," said the South African, who has recorded only one top-10 in 15 starts on the PGA Tour in 2012. "It's been a trying year, and it's great to see some return on the effort I've been putting in.
"The course out there today, it was a tough one. It was hard fought the whole way. There was nothing easy out there. It played tough and showed its teeth pretty well.
"I'm happy to be where I am right now, and I've got two more days ahead of me. I've just got to continue to focus on what I've been doing for the last two days."
McIlroy missed his third consecutive cut worldwide after battling to a seven-over-par 79 to finish well down the leaderboard at six-over 150.
He failed to record a single birdie and wound up with two double-bogeys, one at the par-five 11th where he remarkably hit a shot backwards into water and another at the 14th, where he drove into water.
"I hit some good shots but it just seems like every time I go out there I make one or two big numbers and that sort of throws me," McIlroy said.