2013 U.S. Open: Tiger Woods likes his chances heading into weekend at Merion

Andrew Redington

Tiger’s in the hunt, but will a nagging elbow injury slow him down?

Tiger Woods shot even-par in his second round at Merion on Friday, which may not sound all that Tiger-esque. But the world’s top-ranked player left the course just six shots back of then-solo leader Phil Mickelson and in contention heading into the weekend despite an obviously painful elbow injury.

Just what was ailing Woods had everyone talking -- everyone, that is, but the injured party himself.

When did it happen? "A few weeks ago," Woods said.

What was he doing when it happened? "Playing golf," he said. "At the Players."

So, that’s what we know. Woods hurt his tippling joint sometime during last month’s tilt at TPC Sawgrass, which Tiger chalked up for his fourth win of the season. Old friend Notah Begay III confirmed Friday that his former Stanford teammate’s elbow was inflamed and that he had treated it with ice and electrical stimulation the night before.

Woods’ coyness about his latest in a string of ailments -- from his fabled left knee to his Achilles tendon, to his neck -- was perplexing to ESPN’s Paul Azinger.

"He’s not really being kinda candid about what’s going on there." - ESPN's Paul Azinger

"He’s not really being kinda candid about what’s going on there," said Azinger, who has experienced similar woes and noted that so-called tennis elbow was more painful than the affliction that tends to affect golfers.

"We don’t know if it’s the inside of the elbow, the outside of the elbow, we’re not sure what’s going on," added Azinger, who suggested Woods had undergone a cortisone shot.

Whether he did or didn’t, Woods powered through the pain, which became evident during Thursday’s opener when he grimaced several times after hacking balls out of the deep rough that is bedeviling golfers at Merion this week.

Woods began his day early by cleaning up a par putt on the 11th hole of the darkness-suspended first round and, along with his superstar playing partners, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott, had a quick turn-around to start his second.

He ended up where he began -- at 3-over, and tied with good pal McIlroy -- but well inside the projected cut line, as was Scott. The reigning Masters champion ended his first round at 2-over, but a 5-over coming in put him directly on the trunk-slamming demarcation.

Woods could have gone lower but for his continuing problem reading the speeds of the greens. For sure, we have not seen Tiger at the top of his game this week, though there were flashes of the inner Eldrick, like when he stuck his approach to the par-5 second hole and could have tapped in with a wedge.

He also drilled some clutch putts when he needed them after errant tee shots and chunky chips.

Tiger fans may take heart that their guy is still very much in this thing, heading into Saturday four shots back of co-clubhouse leaders Mickelson and Billy Horschel. Tiger critics, however, may like to know that his chances of making a dent in Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors were not great, if he followed a well-beaten path.

The golfer in question was economical but certain in his response to a query about what he expected of himself over the next two days.

As for that elbow, there was also a silver lining to that cloud, even if the situation still had Azinger scratching his head.

More golf from SB Nation:

Tiger feels the misery of Merion | Why do we cheer for Tiger?

Merion's metal flagsticks troll Scott Langley

Groundhogs running wild at Merion

Highlights from Thursday's round

A guide to the East Course at Merion Golf Club

Four Days in Fort Worth: Putting on a PGA Tour event

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