Nicklaus leaves the stage clear for Woods

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There may be no such thing as a racing certainty, but there were two of the closest calls during the second day of The Open Championship.

The first was that Tiger Woods, having established his lead with a first-round 66, would move inexorably closer to getting his hands on the Old Claret Jug for the second time in his short, but illustrious, career.

The second was the presence of tears in the eyes of Jack Nicklaus as he walked over the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole for the final time, saying farewell to all major championship golf at the age of 65.

By no means embarrassed by a second-round total of even-par 72 and a total of 147, Nicklaus had only missed the halfway cut by three shots, adding extra strength to the clamorous ovation he received from the crowds that lined his route back towards the imposing clubhouse. The great showman even rounded it all off at the final hole with a birdie.

Yet his farewell was tinged with the thought of what damage the future might inflict upon the playing record of golf's greatest exponent. When Nicklaus won his second Masters Green Jacket at Augusta in 1965, the late and great Bobby Jones said: "He plays a game with which I am not familiar." It was tribute that Nicklaus was to live up to, winning 18 major titles and finishing in the top 10 in tournaments 246 times.

For almost two decades since his final major victory at the Masters in 1986, it has been considered an unassailable record. Yet within an hour another figure was to cross that bridge again to wild applause. A case of the king is dead, long live the king.

For following in Nicklaus's footsteps is Woods – still six months short of his 30th birthday but clearly with his sights set on securing his 10th major title on Sunday. Furthermore, moving ever closer to that record or 18 major triumphs, the details of which Woods kept pinned to his wall throughout his childhood as the ultimate in golfing inspiration and aspiration.

As Woods produced a second round 67 to move to 11 under par and leave the field trailing in his wake, it was becoming apparent that it would take divine and not mortal intervention to prevent him adding to his Open triumph at St Andrews in 2000. The rest of the field was praying for strong winds and horizontal rain of the ferocity that saw Woods shoot an 81 on the Saturday at Muirfield three years ago. But there was little sign of storms in the sky.

The opposite in fact. Having enjoyed the best of the opening conditions, an early morning breeze had dropped yesterday by the time Woods started his round and his intent was clear from the moment he picked up the first of his five birdies at the third hole.

During the morning, Woods first-round total of six under par had been caught by a trio of players including Vijay Singh, the Fijian who briefly took the world number one spot from the American last year. During the afternoon, Colin Montgomerie also put together a string of birdies along with the Australian Robert Allenby.

But they made little impression on Woods' progress as he covered the first nine in 33 and picked up another shot at the par-five 14th. Woods has always been a numbers man and he will be aware as he starts his third round at lunchtime today that his record eight-shot margin of victory in 2000 and all-time Open record finish of 19 under par are well within his grasp this weekend.

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