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After 68, Tiger earns 36 more holes

10/8/2011 - Golf Tiger Woods

SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- Friday marked an anniversary of sorts for Tiger Woods. It was six months nearly to the day since he played a round of golf where it really truly mattered, where he had to shoot a score, where he stood over the ball knowing the outcome could have a huge impact.

In April, it was at Augusta National, where Woods played his way into a tie for the lead during the final round of the Masters. He shot a front-nine 31 that day. He eagled the eighth hole. He made a par-saving putt at the ninth.

And then things didn't go so well on the back nine, where several opportunities were missed, where he walked off frustrated about a tie for fourth -- and never dreamed it would be this long before a round of golf mattered so much.

The second round of the Frys.com Open was certainly nowhere near the pressure-packed situation Woods faced at the Masters, but it was the first time since then that a round of golf was played with some urgency.

Well-chronicled injuries to his knee and Achilles limited Woods to just nine holes from the Masters until the Bridgestone Invitational in August, and that World Golf Championship event doesn't have a cut.

The following week, Woods shot an opening-round 77 at the PGA Championship, relegating the second day to hit-and-hope status. It was the last tournament he played until this Fall Series event at CordeValle Golf Club in Northern California.

And after an opening-round 73, Woods was clearly in danger of missing the 36-hole cut. Despite his struggles over the past two years, he still came into the tournament having missed just nine cuts in his career -- seven if you throw out tournaments from which he withdrew.

In 15 years as a pro, he had never missed cuts in consecutive tournaments.

"I don't like missing cuts, period,'' Woods said. "If I miss the cut, that means you can't win the tournament on the weekend. I've got a shot at it this weekend.''

Woods is 7 strokes back of 36-hole leader Paul Casey, who came to the tournament with his own bit of pressure. Suffering from severe jet lag after winning a Korean Golf Tour event last week, Casey is participating in a Fall Series event because he is two tournaments short of the PGA Tour minimum of 15. Oh, and he's outside of the top 125 on the money list, despite being the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 20.

A victory here would take care of all that for Casey, and it would certainly be welcome for Woods, who was thinking much more about that than he was about the pressure of making a cut. In customary Woods fashion, he would not even acknowledge that it was on his mind.

"Well, that number was 64 today; that was kind of the goal,'' he said. "I figured if I shot 64, I'd probably be between 2 and 4 [shots] back. That was kind of my mindset going out.

"I had it going early there, three [birdies] in a row to get to 3 under par for the day, and if we could just keep it going, I could shoot my number. I made a couple of mistakes there at [Nos.] 18 and 1, but overall I'm within 7 shots of it right now.''

Woods was not going to admit that the cut was his concern, but in truth, it would have been a huge blow for him to miss the weekend at a Fall Series event that features just nine of the top 100 players in the world.

His mantra is always to win, but what Woods needs first and foremost is competitive tournament rounds.

"You've got to do it on the range at home and got to do it on the golf course at home and eventually here and down the stretch and then in major championships and win those bad boys," he said. "It's a progression.''

After putting a couple of pieces of lead tape on his putter and adjusting his posture Friday, Woods found a better putting stroke, making six birdies. He also hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation, and another time was on the fringe.

The problems came off the tee, where at one point Woods had hit just 1 of 8 fairways and was struggling with pulled shots.

"You need competition,'' said his swing coach, Sean Foley. "It shows me that under the gun he needs work ... But you aren't hitting 14 greens if you are driving it that bad. So the misses are better.''

Woods seemed to get things straightened out on his back nine. He hit 5 of his last 6 fairways, didn't make a bogey after the first hole (his 10th) and all the while was just 1 stroke inside the projected cut line.

And that's when the pressure was at its greatest. A slip or two there and he's headed home for the weekend, the questions growing greater. But he executed a couple of nice long two-putts for pars, failed to convert a makeable birdie putt at the eighth hole (his 17th) and then hit a 5-wood approach from 265 yards to the par-5 ninth to set up a two-putt birdie that means another two days of tournament golf.

"When you're implementing changes, it's nice to have more competitive reps to fall back to because as of right now, I haven't had that many competitive reps with Sean,'' he said.

So, yeah, in that case, it was pretty important that Woods shot in the 60s and got himself another 36 holes. He's way back, with 40-some players ahead of him on the leaderboard.

To him, winning is all that matters, but in a bigger-picture sense, building on Friday's round, moving up the leaderboard, getting to the fringe of contention for Sunday might be more realistic.

As Foley said, "It's about patience and perseverance.''

There will never be enough of the former when it comes to Woods, who has everyone looking at the positives and negatives of every shot, every hole, every round. Saturday presents that opportunity again.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.