AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods and the weekend at Augusta National Golf Club are joined at the hip. The four-time champion has never missed the cut as a professional at the Masters. On Friday, he flirted with it. But when his second-round 75 left him at 4 over par for the tournament — a stroke inside the cut line, alive for the weekend — his takeaway was a bit different than in the past.
“Six months ago, I didn’t know if I’d be playing golf,” Woods said. “Forget playing at the [PGA] Tour level. I didn’t know if I’d ever be playing again. But it’s incredible to have the opportunity again, to still come out here and play this golf course.”
Woods, 42, missed the past two Masters with back problems, and he has spoken at length about the difficulties he had performing simple tasks — getting out of bed, playing with his kids. Through that prism, playing two over-par rounds was just fine.
But Woods came here with expectations to contend, expectations buoyed by his most recent finishes of second in Tampa and fifth in Orlando, two events in which he contended on Sunday. His iron play over his first two days — a strength coming into the Masters — has been lacking.
Woods began his second round with a bogey at the first because of a poor approach, and that theme followed him throughout the round. He made a double-bogey at No. 5 because of another lousy approach — “I hit a crap shot,” he said. For the second day in a row, he hit a 9-iron into Rae’s Creek at the par-3 12th — saving bogey again — and his only birdies came on the two par-5s on the back side.
“I know what I need to do,” Woods said. “I’m just not doing it.”
Woods’s worst 36-hole score in 18 Masters as a professional was 5-over-par 149 in 2003, when he was coming off back-to-back Masters titles.
He followed that with a third-round 66, which is exactly what he expects he needs now — 13 shots off Patrick Reed’s lead.
But he framed his experience differently than he might have in the past. For once, playing a Saturday at the Masters felt to Woods like a gift, not a right.
“Now I know I’m on the weekend,” he said. “Even though I’m a lot behind, if I play a special weekend — shoot two rounds in the mid-60s — you never know.”
Like Woods, three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson came here intending and expecting to contend. But Mickelson, 47, matched the worst score in his 96 Masters rounds with a second-round 79 that left him barely alive for the weekend — right on the cut line of 5 over par.
“As you get older, you feel a little bit more pressure each one because you don’t feel as though you have an unlimited number of events,” Mickelson said. “So given how well I was playing heading into this, I certainly put a lot of pressure on myself to perform this week and get it.”
Mickelson’s day went off the rails at the par-4 ninth, where an errant tee shot into the trees led to a triple-bogey 7. He managed just two birdies on the day. . . .
The past two Masters champions did not qualify for the weekend.
Sergio Garcia, last year’s winner, followed his opening 81 — which was defined by an insane 13 at the par-5 15th — with a 78. That 15-over total was 19 shots worse than his 36-hole mark a year ago, when he led headed into the weekend. Garcia beat just two of the 82 competitors — amateurs Matt Parziale, a Massachusetts fireman who was 16 over, and Englishman Harry Ellis, who plays collegiately at Florida State.
Danny Willett, the surprise Masters winner in 2016, followed an opening 75 with a 76 to miss by two shots. Willett also missed the cut a year ago.
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