TURNBERRY, Scotland With a cold and murky sea gurgling behind him, Tiger Woods bent at the waist in search of his missing golf ball. He swiped at the tall heather on Turnberry's 10th hole like anyone else would in a disquieting round of golf, moving the yellow blades of grass around in a fruitless pursuit.
Several groups ahead, the 59-year-old Tom Watson was carrying a British Open gallery in the palms of his weathered hands, beating back a rash of bogeys and rolling in putts from distance.
These were two sights few predicted they would ever see at the 138th British Open at Turnberry. The world's No. 1-ranked golfer doubled over, careering toward his second missed cut in a major since turning professional. And Watson, the world's 1,374th-ranked golfer, a senior tour veteran who had his left hip replaced last October, leading the British Open after all these years.
The 33-year-old Woods is going home, removed from blustery Turnberry and the storyline of golf's oldest championship after missing the cut at a major for only the second time as a pro; he last failed to make a major weekend at the 2006 United States Open at Winged Foot. After opening with a one-over 71 in calm conditions on Thursday, Woods followed in Friday's windy weather with an unsightly four-over 74.
His five-over 145 total through 36 holes left him one shot over the cut line. He will have to wait until next month's PGA Championship at Hazeltine to resume his chase of a 15th major title, and he is still four short of his boyhood idol, Jack Nicklaus, who won 18.
"It was just problem after problem," Woods said of his play after his round. "I kept compounding my problems out there."
Left in Woods's wake is a fascinating leader board, topped by a five-time British Open winner in Watson and a first-time British Open participant in Steve Marino. They stand at five-under 135, one man considered by many the greatest links golfer ever born, the other man playing links golf for the first time.
Mark Calcavecchia, the 1989 British Open champ, stands one shot back, and several other big names, including Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen and Miguel Angel Jimenez, are two back.
That the biggest name in golf, Woods, is leaving Turnberry early is one of the biggest surprises of the golf season.
Entering the championship, Woods appeared to be in form. Two weeks ago he won the AT&T National, the tournament he hosts outside of Washington D.C. The British betting houses had listed him at 2-to-1 odds, a nod to his three previous British Open titles and his abundant skill.
More than one prognosticator this week said it would be surprising if anyone other than Woods won. Instead, he frittered away shots on Turnberry's Ailsa Course, most notably on the par-4 10th, where he drove into the right rough, couldn't find his ball despite a five-minute search (that included help from the gallery) and made double bogey.
Woods added a bogey at No. 12 and another double bogey at 13 after he mis-hit a short pitch and a short chip. That left him at seven over par. The cut was four over. He needed three birdies.
The first came at 16, where Woods rolled in a curling putt from 20 feet. The second came at 17, where he got up and down from the behind the green on the par 5, rolling in a 3-footer.
Woods is nothing if not a fighter. He made his way to the par-4 18th tee and launched an iron that settled into the light rough to the right. From 199 yards, he hoisted an 8-iron to the back fringe beyond the green. He would have to hole a chip shot from 50 feet to be assured a place on the weekend.
He paced the length of the shot, seeming to study every blade of grass on the green. He settled over the ball, struck it and watched it roll. The line was perfect. The speed looked good.
Then, the ball stopped, a full two feet short.
Golf's leading man was done for the day, felled by Turnberry's teeth and his own mistakes, and booted from the British Open.
"You can't make mistakes and expect to not only make the cut but also try and win a championship," Woods said. "You have to play clean rounds of golf, and I didn't."
Woods exits stage left, leaving a potpourri of plot lines. The 29-year-old Marino had never even played links golf before arriving for the 138th Open Championship, for which he qualified after being the second alternate. He found out last Sunday while playing the John Deere that he made it into the championship after Shingo Katayama withdrew.
"I didn't have any warm clothes," said Marino. "I didn't have a passport. I had to fly my dad to my house in Florida so he could get my passport and FedEx it to me at the John Deere. I wasn't even expecting to play in this tournament."
So how in the name of Old Tom Morris does a guy with no links experience and no PGA Tour wins shoot 67-68 at Turnberry?
"It does get real windy in Florida," Marino said.
Little has made sense on these ancient links, where Watson continued to yank back Father Time's unyielding grip. It was 32 years ago that Watson clipped Nicklaus by a shot here in the Duel in the Sun, and he has been channeling his former self.
How else can you explain the 30-foot birdie putt on No. 1, the 50-footer on 16 and the 60-footer on 18? How did he bounce back after five messy bogeys in a six-hole stretch on the front nine?
Walking down the fairway with Sergio Garcia on the eighth hole, the younger player told Watson, "Come on, old man!"
"That was nice of Sergio to give me a little pep talk there," Watson said. "It turned around when I made the [birdie] putt on 9. There's always a bunch of give and take in a round of golf."
Turnberry has done its part to create a fascinating tapestry. An expert links player and a novice links player, paired in the final group. The best player in the world, gone home.
And to think, it's only intermission.