- The Masters: Round Two
Tiger bitten by bad luck as Guan, 14, makes cut
Aided, perhaps somewhat unnecessarily, by benevolent late-afternoon conditions, a smooth-swinging Tiger Woods would have taken control of the 77th Masters Tournament on Friday bar some awful luck at the 15th.
2013 Masters: Second round leaderboard
- -6 Jason Day
- -5 Fred Couples
- -4 Angel Cabrera
- -3 Tiger Woods, Adam Scott
Lee Westwood, Justin Rose
- MC Ian Poulter, Louis Oosthuizen, Padraig Harrington
Graeme McDowell, Webb Simpson
With the early starters struggling with some rain and windy conditions at Augusta National, and then many of the other later players finding the tricky pin positions difficult to navigate even as the sun shone, Woods moved into the ascendancy with a display of supreme ball-striking.
Then, misfortune struck. Attempting to take the lead outright at the par-five 15th, Woods floated a sublime pitch shot straight at the flag - and then could only look on in horror as his ball clattered off the flagstick and spun back into the greenside water.
"I was pretty pissed," Woods said afterwards. "I thought that was a good one."
That shot means a 15th major championship remains far from assured for the world No. 1 - who also three-putted the last to drop to three-under following a round of 71. Some big name rivals - including Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy - are all firmly in contention with half of the tournament remaining.
The lead, however, belongs to Jason Day - the two-time major runner-up rolling in a birdie at the par-three 16th to break the deadlock and be the only player still sitting six-under at the close of play.
The leaderboard is compact at the top, with another Australian, Marc Leishman, and Fred Couples - players at opposing ends of the spectrum in terms of Masters experience - both five-under, with Angel Cabrera, Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk a shot behind.
However, Woods' play aside, perhaps the most dramatic moment of the day came further down the field; from 14-year-old amateur sensation Tianlang Guan, who was penalised for slow play on the 17th and left to wait anxiously to see if he would become the youngest player in the modern era to make the cut in a major.
In the end he managed to do so - a par at the last, presumably while still trying to process what had just happened, proving vital as he made history thanks to the ten-shot rule.
Conventional wisdom - wisdom dictated, to a certain extent, by Woods himself in recent years - suggests that a right-hander needs to be able to hit a controlled draw if he is to score well around Augusta. Yet on Friday Woods stuck to his now-preferred fade even when the situation seemed to dictate otherwise, and proceeded to stride to the head of the field with an ease even Usain Bolt would have been impressed by.
With pins tucked away on the early holes the world No. 1 started steadily, just as he had done on Thursday. His first birdie of the day came on the fifth after a long range putt, before another shot was picked up at the treacherous, tree-lined seventh.
Then, on the eighth, Woods cut a mighty approach shot up, over the trees to the left of the fairway and back onto the green to set up a good look at eagle - adding another birdie that brought him within touching distance of the lead.
Of all the great shots Woods hit during his round, perhaps the most important came from close range at the 12th. After flying the green with a misjudged approach, the American's bunker escape did not fully release, leaving him eight feet down the hill for his par. Such tests had become Woods' bugbear in recent years but, continuing the sort of expertise he has shown with the putter since receiving a putting lesson from Steve Stricker at Doral, he rolled the putt smoothly into the left-centre of the cup to continue his momentum.
A lay-up at the next, from an uncertain lie in the rough, showed the risk-averse side of Woods' game, and it cost him a birdie after a slightly undercooked pitch shot. But if that felt like a shot dropped, than the next hole will have felt like a shot firmly gained. Faced with a devilish chip shot from the back of the 14th, he used the contours of the green to aim well right of the flag and let the ball roll back to the precariously-positioned pin - stroking in the subsequent six-footer for one of the up-and-downs of the week.
Then came the drama of the 15th, an act of God - and certainly not a benevolent one - that ultimately only cost him a bogey after a similarly precise follow-up pitch and tap-in putt.
"I felt it was a pretty good shot," Woods said. "I was looking like I was making birdie and then I had to ground it out not to drop two shots."
Two pars followed before a three-putt at the last, an uncharacteristic mental error, saw Woods end up just three-under overall - scant rewind for a generally impressive day's work.
Rory McIlroy is among a number of players who will be looking to go low on Saturday and really throw down the gauntlet for the frontrunners to play behind. The 23-year-old started woefully by his lofty standards on Friday, dropping shots at the first and third, but an eagle at the eighth seemed to restore his confidence - as he flushed his fairway wood approach to set up a six-footer for a three.
"I had a good number for a five-wood," McIlroy said afterwards. "So I knew if I hit it solid it would land somewhere up there on the green."
Further birdies at the 13th and 14th moved him into the top ten. A mistake at the 16th followed but the Northern Irishman regrouped, with his three at the last allowing him to dream of challenging Woods over the weekend.
"If I can get myself back to the form I was last year I'd be very excited to do that," the world No. 2 said. "Conditions this morning were pretty tough with the rain and wind. I didn't get off to the best of the starts but I hung in there.
"The pin positions were tough on the front nine. You had to be really disciplined, put the ball in the right spots. On the back nine I played very solidly."
The 23-year-old is four shots behind Day, who finished second to him in the US Open nearly two years ago. The Australian flew under the radar for much of Friday afternoon, before four back nine birdies (while also finding water at the 12th) enabled him to sneak ahead of the logjam at the top.
But he missed with birdie attempts at 17 and 18 - enabling those players at four-over, including Guan and defending champion Bubba Watson, to make the cut by a single shot.
Fred Couples birdied the 18th to reach five-under after a round of 69. He was subsequently joined by overnight co-leader Leishman - the Australian shooting 73 in a commendable effort. He certainly fared better than the other man to take the Thursday lead, Sergio Garcia, who slipped back to two-under after struggling in the difficult early morning rain.
Angel Cabrera, himself a former Augusta winner, birdied five of his final six holes to also score 69 for the day and slot in at four-under overall - a spot subsequently also occupied by Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker>.
Adam Scott was a shot behind that trio after a round of 72. He was later joined at three-under by Rose, Westwood, Jason Dufner and debutant David Lynn, who cobbled together a round of 73 to partner Thursday's 68.
"I saw a different Augusta today," Lynn noted wryly. "I was just grinding out there."
Westwood was circumspect, saving his two birdies for the 14th and, after a pitch-perfect approach, at the last. With an amenable pin position it was a shot mirrored moments later by compatriot Rose, who duly got into the clubhouse at the same score.
Elsewhere, Phil Mickelson was one of the big disappointments of the day, as a flurry of dropped shots around Amen Corner eventually seeing him end at three-over. Compatriot Dustin Johnson briefly led on his own at seven-under, before a unsightly finish that involved two double-bogeys ultimately saw the American conclude just one-under.
Both at least made the cut - unlike last year's runner-up Louis Oosthuizen, after the South African ended the day six-over.
Others to miss the weekend included Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Webb Simpson and Padraig Harrington.