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Tiger lurks despite round to forget

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The telltale roars that normally traverse the hills and echo throughout the valleys were rarely sounded during Friday's second round of the Masters. Birdies averaged about one per player. Eagles numbered all of four. Never were the galleries led to believe someone was poised to make one of those magical Augusta National runs.

The temperatures held in the 50s much of the day, unseasonably cool by Georgia's spring standards. A constant breeze further quickened greens that on Thursday competitors said were already Sunday fast. And there will be no reprieve forthcoming, not with the temperatures predicted to drop throughout the weekend, not with the winds expected to double in velocity and reach a steady 15-20 mph.

The champion of the 71st Masters will likely be the golfer with the keenest survival instincts. It'll be the player with the ability to persevere when his game falters or is pushed out of synch. You can have the 14 players in front of him if you'd like. I'm still bullish on Tiger Woods, who somehow, someway, lurks just five shots off the lead.

Consistency was absent from the game the four-time Masters champ and 12-time major winner brought with him to Augusta Friday. He drove it all over the lot, hitting just five of 14 fairways. He flared a sickly tee shot on the 240-yard par-3 fourth short and 30 yards right of the pin, another green missed on a day when he found but 50 percent of them in regulation.

The ugliness persisted. An errant tee shot led to bogey at No. 11. A ball in the water at the par-3 12th required a heroic scramble to 4. Woods was 5-over at that point, 5-over and clueless, and when he dunked his approach on the par-5 13th you couldn't help but think the unthinkable, that he could be en route to missing the cut.

"I had a two-way miss going pretty much all day," Woods said. "I could hit it left or right. Not a good place to have a two-way miss going."

Lesser players would have unraveled if given what little game Woods had at his disposal under such difficult conditions. Colombian Camilo Villegas ballooned to a second-round 85. Ben Curtis and Nick O'Hern were among those at 80. Chris DiMarco lost any chance to reprise his '05 dual with Woods, shooting a 78 and missing the cut. Woods could have been one of them, could have been the worst of them all.

"I turned basically a 90 into a 74 today, which was nice," he said. "Yesterday I threw away a good round. Today I salvaged a bad one."

Woods got by on his uncanny ability to extricate himself from predicaments. He hit a fairway wood for the ages on No. 8 when a six-foot diagonal opening between two trees provided his only chance at advancement on his second shot. There was maybe 80 yards to the trees on the other side of the fairway. He aimed. He fired. And he bent it like Beckham, the ball making a severe turn to the right 50 yards out and rocketing 200 yards up the dead center of the fairway as onlookers gasped in amazement. He then nearly holed his 100-yard approach, tapping in for birdie.

But it was at No. 12 that Woods saved his day, cashing a nasty 20-footer for bogey after catching wind and finding Rae's Creek off the tee. "The whole idea is never make a double around this place," he said. "You don't make doubles, you don't make three-putts here, usually you're going to be in contention to win the tournament."

Woods said he didn't pay much attention to the leader board all day. Experience and instinct were telling him all he needed to know. These weren't conditions meant for scoring. This was a day meant to hold your ground and stay in touch.

"They're not going anywhere," he said of the leaders. "I played with Paul [Casey] today and he played just one of the great rounds of golf you'll ever see, shot 68. You're not going to go very far. With the conditions coming up on the weekend we're going to all have to grind. Whether you're a rookie or a vet it doesn't matter, you're going to have your hands full this weekend."

He's five off the lead with 36 holes to go, one shot better off than in 2005, the last time he won here.

Count him out at your peril.


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