AUGUSTA, Ga. — Day 2 was the wild card. After opening with a spectacular-given-the-circumstances 71 in the first round of this year’s Masters, Tiger Woods made his Thursday evening plans clear: Lots of ice.
“Just basically freezing myself to death,” Woods joked.
But how would a rebuilt leg and aging body respond on the second consecutive day of walking 18 holes at undulating Augusta National, still just 14 months removed from a horrific car accident? Every day’s a new, unpredictable test for Woods, but a second consecutive round on a course that’s no easy walk didn’t appear to bother him too much more than it did on Thursday.
“Welllll,” he said, playfully, in his ESPN interview afterward. “I don’t feel as good as I’d like to feel, but that’s OK.”
He was in good spirits. And guess what? He should be. He’s still in this 86th Masters, even more so if Scottie Scheffler isn’t able to keep up his otherworldly play. Despite a rough start and some shaky ball-striking in the middle of his round, Woods signed for a two-over 74 and sits one over for the tournament. He’s still nine back of Scheffler, who leads the field by five, but the group of players tied for second are only four ahead of Woods. It’s the 22nd straight time Woods has made the cut at the Masters, a record.
“I made the cut; I have a chance going into the weekend,” Woods said. “It’s going to be cool tomorrow, it’s going to be the golf course Augusta National wants. It’s going to be quicker, drier, faster. It will be a great test.”
For most of Friday, Woods endured, battling to secure a weekend spot.
Winds of 20-30 mph and gnarly gusts bullied golf balls and kept players on their toes as they worked their way through Amen Corner. Jordan Spieth hit two in the water on 12 and made 6. In the group behind him, Matt Fitzpatrick came up so woefully shy on his approach into 11 that he came up short of the pond guarding the front of the green. When Woods came through a couple hours later, he misjudged the tee shot on 12 so badly that he landed in the flowers a good 10 feet over the back bunker. His ball rolled back into the sand. Bogey.
Scheffler’s 67 tied Justin Thomas for low round of the day. They were in the last two groupings, where they experienced calmer conditions coming in. Hours earlier, when the wind was up, it was all about staying alive.
Woods’ day was a struggle from the opening tee shot, which found the fairway bunker. He missed the green, made bogey and followed that with three bogeys in his next four holes, too. The only hole he didn’t bogey was the 2nd, a par-5, where he made par. But a par on the easiest hole on the course — playing a collective 66 under — felt like a bogey.
In the gallery, Woods fans tried to talk themselves into believing.
“He still has 8, 13 and 15 left,” said one fan, already doing the math, walking to the 6th green. He wasn’t alive for Woods’ first win here in 1997. “He can birdie those, and if he plays the rest in even par — he’ll be golden.”
Woods’ rounds are different because when he putts, everyone holds their breath, willing the ball into the hole just as eagerly as Woods himself.
Some would give up a small portion of their paycheck in exchange for a couple of birdies. They wouldn’t do that for other players. That’s what sets Tiger apart. The patrons are personally invested. On Friday afternoon, broadcaster Mark Immelman said he’s never seen the patrons so warm to Woods as they had been the last two days. He said it was nothing like he’d ever experienced.
Woods birdied the 8th and shot 39 on the front, putting him six off the lead. He hit four fairways and four greens on the front side. His biggest miss from the fairway was on 3, where he missed well right from 127 yards.
“It was windy. It was swirling. Balls were oscillating on the greens. We got a couple of bad gusts. I hit a couple of bad shots,” Woods said. “… I told Joey that, hey, we got a lot of holes to play.”
On the second nine, just as Scheffler started to pull away, the wind died down and Woods finally made some progress.
It got him back in this tournament — even as it left him wondering what could have been.
Woods rolled in a three-footer for birdie on 10, but a missed fairway and missed green led to a bogey on 11, and on 12 he made another bogey when he airmailed the green.
On 13 he chipped his third over Rae’s Creek and made a three-footer for birdie, then sunk a nine-footer for birdie on 14.
The tee at the par-5 15th was moved back prior to this year’s Masters and, with the wind a factor, few players were taking on the tricky green in two. Woods was one of the few who went for it, landing his ball on the green and having it trickle off the back. A downhill chip got away from him and ran past the hole, leaving about 18 feet for birdie, which he’d just miss.
Another missed opportunity came on the 16th. He stuck it to inside 10 feet but missed on the low side.
“I should have got up and down at 15. And should have made that putt on 16,” Woods said. “Other than that it was a good fight. I got back in the ball game.”
Woods parred 17 and 18. On the last, he had 157 yards remaining but thumped it to the back side of the green and had 63 feet for birdie. He two-putted and made the cut with three shots to spare.
Tiger Woods has a weekend tee time at the Masters. Not long ago we weren’t sure if he’d ever play competitive golf again.
Will he catch Scheffler? Can anyone? He’s nine back. He’s got two rounds left.
“Tomorrow is going to be an important day with as cool and as tough as they’re predicting,” Woods said. “It’s going to be quick, and I need to go out there and put myself there. If you’re within five or six on that back nine going into Sunday, you’ve got a chance. So I just need to get there.”