FARMINGDALE, N.Y. - Tiger Woods never considers himself out of a major tournament no matter how far behind he is, but he came up with an interesting twist yesterday on how much longer he would have to catch up in the 109th U.S. Open.

"You never know," said Woods, who was 11 shots behind the leader, Ricky Barnes. "I've got 36 more holes . . . probably over the next three days."

The Open continued to slog along yesterday at squishy Bethpage Black. Officials of the U.S. Golf Association were relieved to get to the halfway point in the afternoon despite rain - steady, but not of the magnitude of Thursday's, when play was washed out after about three hours.

The USGA started the third round in the early evening, attempting to have as many holes as possible played in advance of another pessimistic weather outlook for today, which could prevent the tournament from finishing on schedule this evening.

Even with a two-tee start, however, 16 players did not begin the third round because play was suspended at 6:55 p.m. after a heavy squall line passed through and turned Bethpage's poorer draining greens into lakes.

Play was scheduled to resume at 7:30 this morning. Officials hoped to start the final round as quickly as possible this afternoon.

Barnes, a 28-year-old PGA Tour rookie who has yet to reach the expectations of those who predicted greatness for him after his victory at the 2002 U.S. Amateur, held the lead while establishing a 36-hole Open scoring record of 8-under-par 132 after a 65 yesterday.

Lucas Glover, a one-time winner in six years on the Tour, flirted with a 63 that would have tied the lowest round in a major championship, and settled for a 64 that left him at 133, a stroke ahead of Mike Weir, who had a 70.

Woods carded four birdies and missed a number of makeable birdie putts, but his 69 did not enable him to gain any ground. He was at 143, a shot better than the cut figure.

Only one player - Lou Graham in 1975 - has recovered from that big a deficit in an Open with 36 holes to go.

"Unfortunately, my score doesn't reflect how I've been playing," Woods said. "I'm hitting it well enough. I just need to, obviously, make a few more putts and get it rolling."

West Chester's Sean O'Hair shot his second straight 69 and was in a five-way tie for seventh at 138. Phil Mickelson had a 70 for a total of 139, in a deadlock for 12th.

Conditions were perfect once again for the half of the field that began its rounds late Friday afternoon and finished yesterday morning in sunny and warm conditions. Ten of the top 11 players after 36 holes were in that half of the draw.

The other half, the part that included Woods, got rain - not enough to stop play, but just enough to irritate - for a good part of its rounds.

Barnes said it didn't feel like a U.S. Open when the second round finished on a Saturday, but "it does once you're out there."

"You still have the rough and the greens and everything else that goes along with it," he said. "With the stopping and starting of play, it's been awkward."

Obviously, Barnes has handled the stopping and starting well. He came back yesterday morning to play nine holes - the front nine on the Black Course - and carded three birdies.

"It's pretty cool," he said. "At the beginning of the week, you didn't think that score was out there. Obviously, some tees moved up and the soft greens helped. My ball-striking was probably the most impressive part for me. I hit 31 of 36 greens, pretty stress-free."

The greens were extremely receptive no matter how long a club a player used for his approach. The second-round scoring average was 72.029, and 32 contestants were in the 60s. Only 26 such rounds were carded at Bethpage Black at the 2002 Open - for the entire tournament.

Of course, how the leaders hold up under pressure over the final 36 holes will be an issue. Only three of the top 11 - Weir, David Duval, and Todd Hamilton - have won a major. That may leave the door open for someone like Mickelson, who has the New York crowd on his side.

"I like the position I'm in," Mickelson said. "I struggled with the putter in the first round, round and a half. And I started to turn it around there at the end and make some putts and feel good with it. I think if I can get hot with the putter, I like my chances the next two rounds."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.