But Woods kept his cool when the terrain at this storied layout near the Pacific was lightning quick on the fairways and greens, and he finished the day in prime position to make a run at his 15th major championship and take another step closer to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18.
Woods overcame a three-hole stretch of bogeys to finish with an even-par 70 and joined Jim Furyk and David Toms, both veterans and winners of one major each, for the 36-hole lead at 1-under 139.
No one else in the 156-player could claim he made two trips over the hilly layout at par or better, something that the sponsoring U.S. Golf Association is not complaining about, particularly coming off last year's championship at Congressional where par took a major beating in the wet conditions.
But it takes more than shotmaking ability to come out on top at an Open. It takes patience, patience and more patience.
"That was not easy; the golf course was some kind of quick," Woods said. "It dried out and the wind was swirling a little bit out there. It was tough, really tough, and I just had to stay as patient as possible and I did a really good job of it."
Woods pointed out two shots that he called "the two best swings I made all week" that ended up in "just terrible spots" as evidence of his patience.
The first came at the brutal par-4 sixth hole, where Woods hit a 4-iron that kicked to the left toward a bunker. But instead of landing in the bunker, the ball stayed up at the top of the lip on the last strands of grass, leaving Woods with an awkward stance from where he chipped over the green and made bogey.
The second came at the 522-yard par-5 17th, where Woods was gunning for a birdie to take over the lead by himself. He cracked a 4-iron about as high as he could hit it, but the ball landed just in front of the green and picked up speed as it rolled past the hole and off the green to the right, and down an embankment that left him about 40 yards from the green.
Woods pitched to 12 feet but missed the birdie putt, and on 18 he got up and down out of a front bunker, sinking a 4-foot putt for the save, to preserve even par on the day.
"It's a tournament where you're just plodding along," he said. "This is a different tournament. You have to stay patient and you've got to stay in the present. You're just playing for a lot of pars. It's not where you have to make a bunch of birdies, just got to hang in there with a bunch of pars."
Woods' ball-striking has been impeccable. He hit 11 fairways and 14 greens in regulation on Friday. His 21 fairways hit over the first two days leads the entire field.
"He has great control of his ball-striking and he's able to hit a lot of the fairways," said Phil Mickelson, one of his playing partners the first two rounds. "He's got a very good low shot with his long irons and his 3-wood."
The only bad stretch for Woods came at holes 5 through 7, where he made bogeys on each. He three-putted the short, drivable seventh, a hiccup that he rated as most annoying.
But he still finished the day with the folks at the top, and will play in Saturday's final pairing with Furyk, 42, a frequent partner of his on the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams and the 2003 Open champion.
Furyk, who grew up in the Lancaster area, fashioned three birdies and two bogeys in the early going, before the course grew to rock-hard status. Toms, who played in the same half of the draw as Woods, negated two front-nine bogeys with a pair of birdies on the back.
As far as who might make a run in the third round, look for 2010 Open champion Graeme McDowell, who was part of a four-way tie at 141 with first-round leader Michael Thompson, Nicolas Colsaerts and John Peterson.
But right now, the man to watch is Woods, who seems to need to break his four-year drought in the majors for people to feel that he is back to his old form.
"I think I'm in a good spot," he said.
Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @joejulesinq. Read his blog, Golf Inq, at www.philly.com/sports/golfinq