Striking Distance

Striking Distance

Woods isn't one of the leaders, but he's still in contention.
John Biever/SI

AUGUSTA, Ga., April 6 — Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington and Jerry Kelly were the only players to break 70 Friday as the 2007 Masters continued to confound the players. The struggles of one man, Tiger Woods, spoke loudest.

"I turned a 90 into a 74," Woods said after knocking his ball in the water on 12 and 13 but minimizing the damage with a bogey and a par, respectively, and two late birdies.

Others weren't so lucky. Bart Bryant turned an 82 into an 82 and missed the cut, despite a first-round 72. After a 78 on Thursday, two-time Masters runner-up Ernie Els shot 76 and also packed his bags. Sergio Garcia missed the cut after disappointing rounds of 76-78.

With 2006 runner-up Tim Clark and the Masters rookie Brett Wetterich sharing the 36-hole lead at two under par, Woods was well within striking distance going into the weekend.

"They aren't going anywhere," he said.

Augusta native Vaughn Taylor was just one off the pace at one under par, while fellow Augustan Charles Howell III, a trendy pre-tournament favorite, was part of a group of 15 players who made the cut on the number at eight over par. Vijay Singh led a group of four players at even par.

Woods looked like he might get a rare weekend off but came home with birdies on 15 and 17 and hit a miraculous slicing approach shot from the trees right of the 18th fairway to make a two-putt par and end on a positive note.

"Yesterday I let a good round get away," he said, "and today I salvaged a bad one."

Defending champion Phil Mickelson, the other consensus pre-tournament favorite, got off to a poor start, going three over for his first six holes. He birdied the par-5 eighth to begin to fight his way back, but his old nemesis, the wide-left drive, reappeared and sailed deep into the trees left of the 11th fairway. Amazingly, he escaped with only a bogey and birdied the par-5 13th and 15th holes to get back to five over for the tournament, seven off the lead.

"I fought hard with that five over," Mickelson said. "Tough day with the wind picking up in the afternoon. … I think the wind's going to blow [Saturday] which means over par's going to win. I'll only have to shoot under par, and I'll be right back in it."

At the 1956 Masters, Jackie Burke made up eight strokes to win, the largest deficit ever made up over the final 36 holes.

"It doesn't matter who you are," David Toms said of the struggling big-name players, "if you don't hit every shot just right, there's a double-bogey waiting on any hole."

Proving his point, Toms knocked his ball in the water on the 11th (bogey) and 12th (double) on the way to a six-over-par 78 and stood at four-over for the tournament.

"It's as dry as it was in '99 except they've added 500 yards and a billion trees," Woods said. "The greens are getting that sheen."

Mark Calcavecchia, who shot a one-under 71 and was at three over for the tournament, said: "The greens are tough. Eleven is dead, twelve is nearly dead. They need water. They're getting thirsty."

Henrik Stenson's round spoke volumes. The hottest player in golf after his victory in the WGC-Accenture Match Play two months ago, Stenson birdied the eighth and ninth holes to get to two under for the tournament, tied for the lead. But after shooting a back-nine 42, including a double-bogey 6 on 18, he looked hot in a different way. Stenson looked ready to break something, like a club or maybe a rake.

Casey and Harrington shot Friday's low round, four-under 68, to get to three over and one over, respectively. Kelly failed to get up and down from behind the 18th green to make bogey but still came in with a 69.

The 40-year-old Kelly has made four cuts in four starts at Augusta and never finished better than a tie for 20th place, but cold temperatures are forecast for the weekend. Being from Madison, Wisc., Kelly figures the low temps may play to his strengths.

"I prepare for it," he said. "I've got my hand-warmers. I know what gloves I'm going to wear. It's the same clothing I wear at home when I practice all the time. … I love hearing guys gripe about things, 'Oh, it's going to be cold, it's going to rain.' "

Wetterich has been helped by a pre-tournament practice round he played with the 1976 Masters champion, Raymond Floyd, whose sons are close friends of the Jupiter, Fla., bomber with the buzz-cut.

"He told me an awful lot about the golf course and little different putts that in my mind, they have to go right, but that are dead straight," Wetterich said. "Just things like that. He gave me a chipping lesson, which was awfully helpful."

Throw in the nine holes that Wetterich played with 1987 champion Larry Mize on Monday, and it starts to become clear how a Masters rookie can know the greens well enough to take just 27 putts Thursday, and card a 73 Friday without his A-game.

Then again, it's possible Wetterich learned just as much from the guy he played with in the final round of the CA Championship at Doral two weeks ago: Tiger Woods.

"It's nice to know," Wetterich said, "that you can go head-to-head playing with the best player in the world by far."

Whether that player will perform up to his ranking was the question that hung in the air halfway through the 2007 Masters.

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