This is what the world must look like in Tiger Woods's nightmares. He is grinding in the stifling heat just to make the cut, his best shots unrewarded, his worst ones punished doubly. Giant tree limbs are falling out of nowhere at his feet. Arch rival Phil Mickelson, his gleaming score staring down at Woods from every scoreboard, has already showered, downed a nice glass of Chardonnay and changed a couple of diapers somewhere in his blissful Daddy-land. Surely, this was the apocalypse.
But no, this was reality early Friday evening, as Woods wrapped up a bizarre, exhilarating, unusually eventful second round of the 87th PGA Championship by two-putting for birdie on the 18th hole to squeak by into the third round and avoid what would have been his first missed cut ever in a major.
And yet, does it even matter? Mickelson, after a brilliant early-morning round of 65, leads the tournament at the midpoint with a score of 8-under-par 132, three shots ahead of Jerry Kelly (65 -- 135) and four shots ahead of a trio of golfers that includes 1997 PGA champion Davis Love III (68 -- 136).
Woods, meanwhile, made the cut by the narrowest of margins with a 69 on Friday, for a 36-hole score of 4-over 144, and trails Mickelson by a staggering 12 shots. Unless he throws up a couple of 63s over the weekend, his hopes of winning his third major of the year appear remote at best.
It was a day in which Mickelson emerged like a rocket out of a crowded pack of first-round leaders -- six players had shared the lead after Thursday's play, and 21 more golfers had been within two shots -- with a sizzling 31 on the back nine, which Mickelson played first.
It was a day in which disaster was barely averted, as a large tree limb fell without warning beside Baltusrol's fourth green in the afternoon, just as Woods, perhaps 40 yards away, finished playing a chip shot. Three people were injured, and Woods's group had its round delayed by about 10 minutes.
And it was also a day in which the two most fascinating golfers in the world played a game of role-reversal. Mickelson appropriated Woods's robotic precision, making the safe play over and over to great effect, while Woods played the course with Mickelson's typical reckless abandon, running putts five feet past the cup and gunning for difficult pins.
In perhaps the day's most dramatic moment, Woods, with his weekend survival on the line, stood in the middle of the fairway of the "unreachable" par-5 17th hole -- a 650-yard beast that is the longest hole in major championship history -- and pulled out his 3-wood. His ball came back to earth hole-high to the left of the green, only to ricochet off one side of a bunker and lodge itself under the opposite lip, giving him a nearly unplayable lie and leading to a bogey that dropped him to 5 over.
"What a wonderful bounce that was, wasn't it?" Woods said, oozing sarcasm.
He was being greedy, he admitted, thinking a birdie-eagle finish on the two closing par 5s would put him at 1-over and give him a reasonable chance at staging a weekend comeback. Instead, the bogey at 17 meant Woods needed a birdie at 18, a 554-yard par 5, just to make the cut.
With the type of steely resolve that he usually reserves for winning big tournaments, Woods achieved the necessary birdie -- with a strong drive, a 7-iron approach and two putts -- to keep alive his unblemished streak of weekend appearances in majors.
"I grinded my butt off today," Woods said. "I didn't get any momentum going."
For Mickelson, the comfortable 36-hole lead was another validation of his decision to scale back his tee shots this week in hopes of hitting fairways and avoiding the highly penal rough.
After contending in all four majors a year ago, including a win in the Masters, Mickelson had been a non-factor in 2005, finishing 10th, tied for 33rd and tied for 60th in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, respectively. His problem more times than not was a lack of accuracy off the tee.
This week, however, Mickelson has employed a high fade shot with his driver, designed to land softly in the fairways and stay there. On other holes, he hits 3-woods. In either case, he sacrifices distance -- and a measure of machismo -- in the interest of accuracy.
"I think [the fade shot] is most effective here," Mickelson said, "because the fairway is drying out and I want the ball to come in softer. . . . The softer I bring it in, the more fairways I'll hit. Or if I do miss it, it will stay closer to the fairway and won't get as far off into trouble."
It is a strategy his swing coach, Rick Smith, has tried to get Mickelson to use in the past, only to see Mickelson's dashing, daring instinct overpower it. Even this week, it is not easy to keep that instinct at bay.
"There are some holes out there where he would like to hit some hard draws," Smith said. "I'm sure sometimes his instincts are saying, 'Oh boy, let's bomb a big draw out there.' But that's [not] his game plan. He's hitting 3-woods and high cuts. . . . It's a controlled ball flight."
Perhaps no hole better illustrates the difference in their approaches than the pivotal 17th, which few besides Woods and Mickelson have the length to even think about trying to reach in two shots. Whereas Woods was lured in by its siren song, and paid for it with a bogey, Mickelson birdied it by piping a drive down the middle, laying up with a 4-wood and sticking a wedge within 15 feet, then making the putt.
So, on Saturday, while Mickelson is playing in the day's final group -- the leaders' group, alongside Kelly, with the cameras following every shot -- Woods will be in the uncharacteristic position of answering to an early wakeup call, and teeing it up in the first group of the morning.
"I'll be setting the pins for Phil and the boys," Woods joked. "Make sure the dew is swept off, and everything is nice and neat."