Just outside the scorer's tent, Woods and McIlroy passed the standard-bearer holding the scores from the group just ahead. No survivors from that bunch: Furyk +16 . . . McDowell +13 . . . Z Johnson +11.
"I'm very happy," McIlroy said of his own second-round 70. "Right in there for the weekend. I don't think I'll be too far away by the end of the day."
Scott had begun the day at 3-under, 6 strokes ahead of Woods, but managed three bogeys and a double in his morning seven holes, then shot 75 in the afternoon, putting him at 7-over, four behind Woods and McIlroy. Getting overaggressive, Scott hit one ball out of bounds on the 15th and almost hit a second, except it settled in the rough a foot inbounds.
All day, Woods showed a fuller understanding of how to attack Merion. He didn't attack it. A number of times, Woods was behind his playing partners, hitting irons off tees while they chose hybrids or 3-woods. He was willing to hit longer irons into greens, understanding he'd more likely be putting from 20-30 feet than from inside 10 feet.
On Merion's front nine in the afternoon, Woods also scrambled effectively, needing just 13 putts over those nine holes. Woods birdied both par-5s, although he drove in the rough at No. 2 and hit his second shot in the left rough at No. 4, converting a terrific approach from there. He made a 12-footer for par at No. 5, a 4-footer for bogey at No. 7 after stubbing a chip, and saved par at No. 8 with another 8-footer.
"They've really tried to protect the golf course, with it being as soft as it is," Woods said. "And they've given us some really, really tough pins."
The difference from the first round was startling. Some pins seemed hidden in pine trees.
"They're trying to protect par," Woods said.
Somebody pointed out to Woods that the USGA had said the U.S. Open is not about the winning score. Did he buy that?
"No," Woods said.
McIlroy took the other side.
McIlroy and Woods both thought wind was another factor keeping scores high.
"We got it right in the stiff breeze," Woods said of playing the tougher late holes in the morning. "It was playing hard."
Listening to him, you'd have thought Woods shot 80.
"I played well," Woods admitted. "I just made a couple of mistakes out there, but I really played well."
It's unclear how much Woods is affected by pain in his left elbow. He shook it a couple of times Thursday after shots from the rough, and also let his left arm fly off the club a couple of times late Friday after slightly wayward shots.
Woods did say for the first time that he'd hurt the elbow at the Players Championship last month, offering no detail. Asked after his first round what he had felt, Woods said, "Pain. But it is what it is and you move on."
Woods and McIlroy are friendly, but their conversations clearly weren't about Woods' elbow.
"I haven't seen anything wrong with him," McIlroy said.
It was a weird scoring day for McIlroy. He drained a 23-footer for a rare birdie on the 256-yard, par-3 third, then bogeyed the birdie-able par-5 fourth after he sprayed his drive right and played his second shot down the adjacent eighth hole. The game plan worked, but his approach found the front bunker.
His scorecard still added up to 70, with four birdies and four bogeys.
The 24-year-old Northern Irishman, in Philadelphia for the first time, decided he had to run the Rocky steps the day before the tournament.
"It was only 75 steps," McIlroy said. "Obviously, after a 10-mile run, it's a little more difficult."
This golf course is enough for him.
"You'd have to go 12 rounds with it," McIlroy said of Merion.
Contact Mike Jensen at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @jensenoffcampus.