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 Tiger Woods of the U.S. tips his hat after sinking a birdie putt on the 16th hole during the second round of the 2009 PGA Championship golf tournament at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, August 14, 2009. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan
Tiger Woods of the U.S. tips his hat after sinking a birdie putt on the 16th hole during the second round of the 2009 PGA Championship golf tournament at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, August 14, 2009. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan
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Woods opens commanding lead at gusty Hazeltine

By Larry Fine

CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) - Tiger Woods answered every challenge with a brilliant display of power shot-making on a hot, windy day at Hazeltine to seize a commanding four-stroke lead after 36 holes of the U.S. PGA Championship.

Woods, up by one after an opening 67, burst out of a four-way tie with back-to-back birdies from the sixth and quashed a late challenge by Briton Ross Fisher with three birdies in a row to post 70 for a seven-under total of 137.

"It was pretty blustery," Woods said about the 25 mph gusts that blew across the 7,674-yard layout, the longest to hold a major championship.

"It was changing directions a little bit here and there. It was affecting putts. You had to play the wind on putts. All in all just a very difficult day."

Five players were tied for second on three-under 141 -- holder Padraig Harrington of Ireland (73), two-time winner Vijay Singh of Fiji (72), U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover (70), Australian Brendan Jones (70) and Briton Ross Fisher (68).

Fisher birdied three of four holes from the 14th to surge into a tie with Woods on five-under, but the world number one shifted into high gear and the 28-year-old Englishman bogeyed his last two holes to drop back.

On the front nine, big-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros and Graeme McDowell of Britain joined Woods and Harrington in a four-way tie for the lead on four-under before giving way.

McDowell shot 75 and Quiros 76 as both finished on 145.

Woods played some spectacular golf sandwiched inside a bogey start and bogey finish. He took five on the par-four first hole after driving into the left rough and lost a stroke to par after an errant approach on the 18th.

BUMPY GREENS

With winds firming up the massive greens that grew bumpier as the day progressed, Woods made shot after shot to leave his pursuers behind.

"I got off to a poor start and just kind of hung in there," said Woods, going after his 15th major crown. "Long way to go. Thirty-six more holes."

That analysis might offer little consolation for the 79 other players who made the cut at four-over 148. Woods has won all eight times after leading a major at the half-way mark.

"His game looked solid again today," said Harrington, who played alongside Woods and watched his overnight one-stroke deficit blow out to four on Friday.

"I would think the golf course will get tougher on the weekend ... More tucked pin positions and with the greens getting a little bit firmer, all in all probably playing well into Tiger's hands."

The 33-year-old Woods, seeking a fifth PGA crown to match the record held by fellow Americans Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen, made three birdies in a row from the 14th to set himself up for the second half of the championship.

Woods drove through the green at the 299-yard par-four 14th and two-putted from 22 feet. At the par-five 15th, he hit his second shot through the green, chipped up close and made another birdie.

At 16, he sank another 20-footer to bolster his lead.

Fisher acknowledged Woods's standing, but held out hope of finding a way to claim his maiden major.

"Yes, Tiger is the greatest golfer I think we've ever seen," Fisher said. "But at the end of the day, he's just like me and you. He's just a human being."

(Editing by Ian Ransom)

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