AUGUSTA, Ga. – For every overcooked approach shot, every tee ball that landed in the pine straw, every drop in the drink at Rae's Creek, Tiger Woods would come up with another shot to remind everyone why he can never be counted out.
Woods may not win this year's Masters, but he'll certainly be in the mix after delivering a clinic Friday on how to get into, and out of, lots and lots of trouble at Augusta National.
He shot 2-over-par 74 in the second round to finish at 3 over, five strokes behind leaders Brett Wetterich and Tim Clark.
"I turned basically a 90 into a 74 today, which was nice," Woods said. "Yesterday, I threw away a good round. Today, I salvaged a bad one.
"I'm right there in the ballgame."
Maybe not for defending champion Phil Mickelson.
He was optimistic after a 76 in the opening round, saying a 68 could get him right back in there. But that was out of the cards as he made the turn and started hacking his way around the back nine.
Mickelson was at 6 over through 13 holes. It could have been worse had he not saved bogey after driving deep into the left woods on No. 11.
Tiger was all over the place on this day, too. But he just kept grinding. More than grinding, really. More like hitting some spectacular shots to stay well in contention at a dry, windy version of Augusta National that was not giving up good scores.
After playing this tournament in lots of rain over the past few years, maybe this is what the course bosses had in mind when they began an expansion project that has lengthened the course to 7,445 yards over the last eight years.
"They're not going anywhere. Not under these conditions," Woods said of his competition. "They're not going low today."
Woods said he had his infamous "two-way miss" working Friday, leaving him capable of hitting it left or right and never really knowing which was coming when.
He could also hit it left-handed, as he did on No. 9, after missing into the pine straw on the left and getting stymied up against a tree. He saved bogey there.
And he could hit it short, as he did on No. 12, when his shot landed shy of the green and rolled back into Rae's Creek, leaving him staring at the tee box in disbelief. He had just made bogey on No. 11 to balloon to 4 over, and at that time, it looked like another big number could put him in danger of missing the cut.
He didn't panic, though. Instead of going for the pin after his drop — "If you put it short, you could be there forever," he said — he hit his third shot about 20 feet past the hole. And rattled in the putt to keep double bogey off the card.
"The whole idea is you don't make double at this place," Woods said.
He was in position for double again on No. 13, when he dropped his second shot into Rae's Creek. Instead of a big number, though, he chipped to 4 feet and saved par.
On No. 15, he blasted his second shot over the green, bending down, putting his hands on his knees and flipping his club aside as he watched the shot sail. He wound up precariously close to the stands and the water — but not in the water. A delicate chip, a putt, a birdie. Problem solved. Again.
"You can go ahead, plod along, try to put the ball in the right spot if you can," Woods said. "If you can't, try not to have any wrecks."
Sounds more like a formula for the U.S. Open. This year, it's working at the Masters, too.
Among the very few who messed with the formula, and did it successfully, were Padraig Harrington and Paul Casey. Both shot 4-under 68. Casey, who missed the fourth hole-in-one in history at No. 12 by about two inches, finished the day at 3 over. Harrington, who opened with three straight birdies, was 1 over.
"I don't think 1 over is going to win the tournament," Harrington said. "I've got to move forward again, but I think I got a foothold and it gave me some momentum."
The few others with scores under par Vaughn Taylor, who shot 72 to head into the weekend at 1 under, and first-day co-leader Justin Rose, who was 1 under through 12 holes.
That was it, and a big part of the reason Augusta National remained quiet for most of Friday. There just wasn't much to cheer about.
"I wanted to make a lot of pars," Wetterich said. "You always hear great players say pars are great in majors."
Most majors, perhaps, though the Masters has always been known as a place for big comebacks and low scores on the back nine. Maybe not this time.
"Every shot takes a lot of attention," Harrington said. "You don't want to be slacking anything out there. You've got to give it your full attention."
Scores were so high, it appeared the 10-shot cut rule would take effect and bring a big group at 8 over back for the weekend. That was big for Fred Couples, who was on the number after 14 holes and trying to tie Gary Player's record by making his 23rd straight cut.