By John Huggan
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- For the still-sizeable group of challengers looking to win this 77th edition of golf's youngest major, the signs are ominous indeed. As so often over the last 16 years or so, the one name no one else wants to see on the leader board -- "Woods T (USA)" -- is right there, tucked in three shots behind the leader, Jason Day.
Tiger Woods walks up the 17th fairway during the second round of the Masters. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Perhaps just as hauntingly, the pre-tournament favorite has himself in such a promising position with a display of efficient golf far removed from the occasional inconsistencies that have dogged him over the last couple of seasons.
Just thrice, in fact, has the 14-time major champion -- four of those won here at Augusta National -- made anything other than par or birdie en route to a halfway total of 141, three under par. Surprisingly, only once in his already-storied career has Woods led a Masters after 36-holes. Even so, it would already appear that someone is going to have to play awfully well over the weekend to beat him.
Even one of Woods' three dropped shots comes with an asterisk. Maybe even two. After laying-up his second shot short of the pond on the par-5 15th Friday, the world number one hit a pitch befitting his lofty status. At least that's how it looked in the air. Right down the flag, it hit the pin and ricocheted back into the water. As bad breaks go, it was one of the most egregious.
No matter, Woods' next pitch was almost as accurate, the ball pulling up maybe three feet from the cup. From there, he made the putt for only his second bogey in 33 holes. The third, three holes later, was more orthodox but probably even more disappointing; three putts from the back of the 18th green.
Still, Woods didn't appear too unhappy with the state of his play with two rounds to go. And he was philosophical rather than angry about the outrageous misfortune he suffered at the 15th.
"It was a nice little soft 60 (degree wedge) in there, a little cutter," he said. "The wind, at the time, was coming off the right. I just tried to hold it in there. The sun was in my eyes but I knew I started the ball on the flag. It was a good one.
"My ball-striking was so good today. Even my misses were right over the flag. The shot at 18 was 'flagged.' I got the wrong gust and missed at 12, right over the flag. At 14 I was right over the flag. At 15 I hit the flag. And at 16 I was right at the flag. I really felt like I hit the ball well but didn't really get much out of the round."
As for the next two days, Woods seemed confident enough in his ability to acquire a fifth green jacket.
"I could have been better, of course," he continued. "But everyone can say that. There's a long way to go. There's 36-holes to go and this is a tricky test. Today the wind was swirling all over the place. I got a wrong gust at 12 and almost sent it into the TV tower. Luke (Donald) got another gust and barely made the bunker. So it was tough and anything can still happen."