GULLANE, Scotland Wily Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez led the way and Tiger Woods ground out a second-round 71 to stay right in the mix as the British Open turned into a dogfight at Muirfield on Friday.
The early starters enjoyed the best conditions on another sun-drenched day but the course bared its teeth in the afternoon to throw up a congested leaderboard heading into the weekend.
Jimenez, 49, followed his opening 68 with a level-par 71, the cigar-loving Spaniard drawing on all his experience to mix two birdies with two bogeys in a rock-steady round to finish at three under.
"I like to feel the pressure. As long as you can handle that, it's no problem," he told reporters. "I feel comfortable."
World number one Woods made two birdies and two bogeys on the front nine and sank a 10-foot putt on the final green to finish on two under par along with Briton Lee Westwood (68), Henrik Stenson of Sweden (70) and American Dustin Johnson (72).
Briton Martin Laird, Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello, American Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrera of Argentina were the only other players to finish under par and will start the third round two behind Jimenez.
Woods collected birdies at the third and fifth holes but bogeys on the fourth, eighth and 11th halted his charge and the American waved his putter in frustration after wasting a birdie chance at the 12th.
He maintained his concentration, however, to par the next five holes and a fine approach shot set up a birdie on the last which he celebrated with a trademark fist pump.
"Towards the middle part of my round I lost the pace and was blowing it past the hole," said 14-times major winner Woods. "But I finally got it fixed at the end.
"Just got to continue plodding along. Continue being patient, putting the ball in the right spots and trying.
"We're not going to get a lot of opportunities out there but when I have I've been able to capitalize and hopefully I can continue doing that."
Westwood, seeking a long overdue first major championship, took advantage of a hot putter to pick up six birdies over the first 12 holes.
He briefly moved to five under but had to settle for a round of 68 after three bogeys over the closing stretch.
"I was pleased to be five-under through 12," said Westwood. "I was playing some great stuff and it was just getting harder as the holes progressed, tougher to score, tougher to get it close.
"The finish is tough, 16, 17, 18 are playing hard. So it's like most major championships, it's a grind out there."
Cabrera, twice a major champion and runner-up in this year's U.S. Masters, got to four under after 13 holes but dropped shots at the 14th, 15th and 18th to fall back.
Zach Johnson, the overnight leader after an opening 66, bogeyed four holes on the front nine but got back to five under before giving away another four shots including a double-bogey six at the treacherous 15th.
Pars on the closing holes were not easy to achieve with the greens speeding up throughout the afternoon.
As the players struggled to cope with the conditions, the projected cut mark increased steadily throughout the day and was finally made at eight over.
World number two Rory McIlroy will miss the weekend's action after slumping to a 75 and a 12-over-par total while former world number one Luke Donald finished 10 over, a 72 failing to repair the damage of his opening 80.
U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and former British Open winners Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and David Duval also missed the cut.
Only four players broke 70 - Westwood, South African Charl Schwartzel (68), American Kyle Stanley (69) and Briton Paul Lawrie (69).
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)