CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Nick Watney answered what he referred to as a wake-up call at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Tiger Woods might need one.
Watney had gone nine straight rounds on the PGA Tour without breaking 70 and had failed to crack the top 10 in all nine of his stroke-play tournaments. He worked hard to change that, and it paid off Friday with an 8-under 64 that put him atop the leaderboard at Quail Hollow.
"I think last week was a wake-up call for me," said Watney, who missed the cut in New Orleans. "And I've worked really hard these five days leading into this event. I think it just shows I'm making progress. Who knows what's going to happen this weekend, but I'm really excited for it. More hard work, and hopefully I'll be in this position a lot more."
Woods wasn't sure about the weekend, either, though he was certain he would not be spending time at Quail Hollow.
He failed to birdie any of the par 5s, missed a 4-foot birdie putt on his 17th hole with the cut on the line and headed home to Florida after a 73 left him well outside the cut line at even-par 144.
"This is one of my favorite tour stops, and unfortunately, I'm just not going to be around for the last two days," Woods said.
It would be only the eighth time Woods has missed the cut — and twice in his last eight PGA Tour events dating to the PGA Championship in August — and the first time to miss the cut twice at the same tournament. He also missed the cut in the Wells Fargo Championship in 2010.
Woods was tied for 85th when he finished. By late afternoon, as the wind slightly increased, he got up to a tie for 71st, though it was still a long shot. If he doesn't make it back, it would be the third straight year he would not be at Quail Hollow on the weekend.
Watney was at 12-under 132, one shot ahead of Webb Simpson, who had a 68.
Stewart Cink, winless since he captured the British Open at Turnberry in 2009, had a 69 and joined Ben Crane (64) two shots out of the lead. Ryan Moore had a penalty stroke for his ball moving on a tap-in and had to settle for a 70. He was at 9-under 135.
Rory McIlroy celebrated his 23rd birthday Friday with a birdie on his final hole for a 68 that kept him in range, just six shots back. McIlroy nearly missed the cut two years ago until an eagle on his 16th hole of the second round allowed to make it on the number. He went on to win the tournament.
Woods could only hope for such luck. His break came on the par-5 fifth in a bizarre ruling in which he never found his ball and didn't get penalized. His second shot went well left, over the gallery and into the trees. There was a mad scramble to surround the ball, but when Woods arrived, the ball was nowhere to be found. Rules official Mark Russell spoke to spectators who said they saw it land, and considering the open terrain, determined a fan had taken the ball.
Woods was given a drop with no penalty instead of going back to the fairway for his fourth shot. He made wound up with a par.
"There were about five or six people that ran over to the ball, and the next thing you know, we get down there and there's hundreds of people and no ball," Woods said. "You saw an area there, there's nothing there. We looked around for a while, and then Mark came over there and analyzed the situation and what was going on."
Now if he can figure out what's going on with his game.
Woods won at Bay Hill to end a 30-month drought on the PGA Tour, and then had his worst performance as a pro at the Masters when he tied for 40th. Next up is The Players Championship, the tournament where he has finished out of the top 10 more than any other.
"Well, it's frustration," he said. "I finished, what, 12 back of the lead, and I'm not playing the weekend where I have a chance to compete for a title. I've missed my share of cuts in the past, and they don't feel good."
Watney is staying with Simpson this week, and there was a chance they would be paired together in the third round.
Still on the course was John Senden, who ran off three straight birdies early in his round and was at 11 under with three holes remaining. Phil Mickelson got off to a slow start. Rickie Fowler shot 38 on this front nine and was seven shots behind.