CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A lost ball didn't cost Tiger Woods at the Wells Fargo Championship. A lost game did.
Coming off his worst performance as a pro at the Masters, Woods didn't make a birdie on any of the par 5s on another day of low scoring and wound up with a 1-over 73 to miss the cut for only the eighth time in his career.
"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 Friday.
With swirling wind in the afternoon, Quail Hollow became tougher and there was an outside chance Woods could finish among the top 70. But he knew the score long before the second round ended. He was at even-par 144, and that was not going to be good enough.
Seventy-four players made the cut at 1-under 143, the first time in 10 years of this tournament that the cut was under par.
It was the first Woods missed the cut twice at the same event. Woods failed to qualify for the weekend at Quail Hollow in 2010 when he had just returned from the scandal in his personal life and his game was in disarray.
It didn't look much better on a course where he won in 2007.
Woods kept throwing away shots with a hooked iron off the tee at the 12th, a three-putt on the 13th, a weak chip on the 18th.
Woods, as he did at the Masters, attributed it to his old swing under Hank Haney. In an answer that was difficult to follow, he said he hits the ball better when he feels uncomfortable over the ball. Part of that is because he is still learning a new swing under Sean Foley.
"It just that I get out there and I want to get comfortable, and I follow my old stuff," he said. "And I hit it awful. All the shots I got uncomfortable on, I just said, 'I'm going to get really uncomfortable and make it feel as bad as it possibly could,' I striped it. I know what I need to do. It's just I need more reps doing it."
His worst shot of the day led to something even stranger than Woods leaving a tournament on Friday.
He never found his ball and wasn't penalized.
Going for the green on the par-5 fifth, Woods hooked his approach some 30 yards left of the green and over the gallery. There was a mad scramble by the gallery to get to the ball, but when Woods arrived, the ball couldn't be found.
Tour official Mark Russell, speaking to several people who saw the ball land and fans surround it, determined that someone took the ball. He had Woods drop where spectators said they saw it without a penalty.
"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."
Russell said if the area had been heavily populated with bushes or thick pine straw, it might have been a different ruling. But because it was such an open, barren area and there were spectators who saw it land and bounce not too far away, there was only one conclusion.
"I'm thinking all the time, 'If you can't find the ball, the ball is lost.' But based on the evidence we had, somebody must have picked the ball up," Russell said. "Very unusual situation, but based on all the evidence and the situation it was, looked like to me somebody ... where else could the ball have been?"
He got no argument from Geoff Ogilvy, who was playing with Woods and was near the green when he hit his second shot from the fairway. Ogilvy said he saw the ball drop from the trees, though he never saw it hit the ground because it was behind the spectators.
"It got picked up for sure. There can't be any doubt," Ogilvy said. "I guess there's a chance it could roll under the pine straw, but not when 500 people are there looking for it. Usually, Tiger's ball, they all circle around and stare at the ball. And it was gone."
It was bizarre, indeed, though Ogilvy said he would be surprised if that were the first time Woods' ball vanished.
"That's a pretty good souvenir for people, I'd imagine," he said.
It was reminiscent of the Bridgestone Invitational in 2006, when Woods hit a shot over the ninth green at Firestone. It hit the cart path, went onto the roof of the clubhouse and was never found. Turns out a member of the kitchen staff who was delivering pies saw a ball bouncing near his cart. He thought someone threw it at him as a prank and drove off with it. Woods was given free relief because it was not out of bounds.
The biggest difference between those incidents? Woods went on to win at Firestone.
This time, he won't even get the chance.
And so his up-and-down season continues. His game remains a mystery.
He withdrew after 11 holes of the final round at Doral with tightness in his left Achilles tendon, the same one that caused him to miss three months last year. Two weeks later, he ended 30 months without a PGA Tour victory when he won by five shots at Bay Hill. That made him a favorite at the Masters, where he tied for 40th and was harshly criticized for kicking a club after a poor tee shot on the 16th hole.
This is the third straight year at Quail Hollow that Woods wasn't around for the weekend. He missed the cut in 2010 and did not play last year while letting what was described as "minor injuries" to his left leg heal.
Next up is a tournament that also has brought very little lucky in recent times. Woods withdrew each of the last two years from The Players Championship, leaving after seven holes of the final round with a neck injury in 2010 and stopping after a 42 on the front nine last year with an Achilles injury that kept out until August.
At least he has his health, and Woods said he would resume practice immediately.
"The entire week, I didn't play the par 5s well," Woods said. "Today I made four pars. You just can't do that, especially when all of them are reachable with irons. I didn't take care of the par 5s, missed a couple other little short ones for birdie, and consequently got no momentum during the round."
Woods preached patience. He said it took him two years to fully understand the overhaul under Butch Harmon in 1998, and to get what Haney was teaching in 2004. He began working with Foley at the 2010 PGA Championship, though injuries have kept him from unlimited practice until last August.
"Obviously, we've changed a bunch of different things, and every now and again I fall into the same stuff, old stuff," Woods said. "That doesn't work with a combo platter of old and new."
After escaping with par on the fifth, Woods still had time to at least get to 1 under. A poor wedge on the par-5 seventh forced him to make an 18-footer for par, and he missed a 4-foot birdie chance on the eighth. His 40-foot birdie putt on the ninth was 4 feet short of the cup.
Was the win at Bay Hill an aberration? Maybe. After all, Woods still won the odd tournament while making changes with Harmon and Haney. Ogilvy, for one, didn't think Woods was that far away.
"I think he's playing pretty well," Ogilvy said. "He hit four or five pretty loose shots of the tee, and one into 5. If he'd holed putts, he'd be in contention. He wouldn't be out of the tournament. I think he's actually getting there. I think he's doing a lot of good stuff. If he tells you he's close, I think it's actually right. But he has to putt better."