Commentary

It's back to the future for Tiger Woods

Updated: April 13, 2013, 2:36 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- His proclivity for profanity, especially when in range of an open microphone, is often a point of discussion. It is just one of many things -- important or not -- that are debated when it comes to Tiger Woods.

But if ever he might be excused for dropping a few choice words, Augusta National's 15th hole on Friday afternoon offered the opportunity.

[+] EnlargeTIger Woods
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesTiger Woods has never won a major championship from outside of the top five through 36 holes, nor by shooting a score of 70 or more in the second round. He shot 71 on Friday and is T-7 at the midway point of the 2013 Masters.

Woods' seemingly perfect approach to the par-5 green hit the flagstick on the fly -- and bounced back into the pond.

A sure birdie was about to turn into a bogey, and the second-round lead at the Masters instead would be left for Australian Jason Day.

The veins were about to pop out of Woods' forehead, and he did a very slow burn as he walked to the drop area. That was about as bad a break as one could get, and while Woods is the first to admit he has been blessed with some good fortune throughout his career, there is no way that was on his mind at that moment.

But then Woods did what the greats do -- he hit nearly exactly the same shot, this time getting it to stop 3 feet from the hole. He converted the bogey putt to minimize the damage, and although he finished his round with two bogeys in his final four holes, he remains in position to capture his first major championship in nearly five years.

"I thought I played really well today," said Woods, whose 1-under-par 71 put him at 141, 3 under par, and 3 strokes behind Day. "It's a round I should have been in the 60s. My score didn't reflect how well I played."

No doubt, Woods left Augusta National -- again -- feeling like he left shots on the storied course. He made the turn in 33 strokes, was 5 under par for the tournament, had two par-5s in front of him and seemed poised to take the lead into the weekend.

But he could not make another birdie, failing at the 13th, making a great up-and-down to save par at the 14th, the bogey at the 15th, another nice save at the 16th and then a three-putt bogey at the 18th.

Still, Woods was looking on the positive side, despite the negatives that plagued him over the final holes.

"My ballstriking was so good. Even my misses were over the top of flags," he said. "The shot on 18 was flagged. I missed it on 12 [over the green in a bunker], got the wrong gust, but again right on top of the flag. Fourteen was right over the top of the flag. Fifteen hit the flag, 16 right at the flag again.

"I really swung the club well and didn't really get a lot out of this round. Granted, these conditions were tough. It was swirling all over the place. It's tough out there."

There were just three scores in the 60s, none better than the 68 shot by Day. First-round co-leader Sergio Garcia shot 76. Fred Couples moved into a tie for second, a stroke back, with a 71. He's tied with Marc Leishman, who shot 74.

Somehow Angel Cabrera, the 2009 champion, managed four straight birdies on the back nine to tie Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker in fourth, 2 strokes back.

And that means Woods has some history to overcome if he is to get a fifth green jacket.

Only one Masters champion since 1998 has won the tournament coming from outside of the top five after 36 holes. That was in 2011, when Charl Schwartzel became the first player since Jack Nicklaus in 1986 to win after being outside the top 10 at the halfway point.

The good news? Woods has made just three bogeys, his lowest 36-hole total since 2002, when he went on to win.

The bad news? He has just six birdies and has played the par-5s in a very average 2 under par, including even par on the back nine Friday. He has also never won a major championship from outside of the top five through 36 holes, nor by shooting a score of 70 or more in the second round.

And yet, he is only 3 strokes back, having hit just 23 of 36 greens and having taken 57 putts. There is certainly room for improvement, and yet his difficulties over the closing holes have not kept him from contention.

"There's a long way to go, we got 36 holes and this is a tricky test," he said. "They did a hell of a job today setting up these tee boxes. They put us back there. And they gave us some really tough pins and some different pins."

If Woods is to win here for the first time since 2005, he will need to figure out the back nine. He played it in 2 over par Friday, unable to go for either of the par-5 greens in two shots after his tee shots missed the fairways.

It was the eighth consecutive round here in which he failed to break par on the closing nine holes, a rather startling statistic given his typical domination of the par-5s over the years.

There was certainly plenty of reason to be angry, and Woods could be seen muttering to himself on more than one occasion. But when it came to a horrible break, he dealt with it and kept the situation from becoming worse.

Perhaps he funnels that frustration into a more positive outcome Saturday.

That is likely what he will need in order to have a chance for another green jacket on Sunday.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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