PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Tiger Woods broke 70 for the first time in 10 rounds and will play on the weekend of The Players Championship.
Rory McIlroy has yet to break par at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and left this place early - again.
On another hot, swirling sunlit day at the PGA Tour's signature event, Woods started the second round Friday two shots above the cut line and was still above it after seven holes. After missing the cut last week at the Wells Fargo Championship, and with his 74 on Thursday, Woods was in danger of missing consecutive cuts for the first time in his career.
Then he made birdie on the eighth. And the ninth, 10th and 11th holes to give himself some breathing room. Now he's in place to make a run at his second Players Championship, having won this event in 2001.
His 4-under-par 68 - the first time he's broken 70 since the second round in his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a drought of nine rounds over four tournaments - put him at 2-under 142 and two to the better of the cut.
Seventy-two players made the cut, including last week's winner Rickie Fowler, who shot a second-round 69 as part of Woods' group and is at 3 under for the tournament. Fowler had been 0-for-2 at The Players.
Woods, in a tie for 30th, trails a trio of leaders by six shots -Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Kevin Na.
"I probably could have gotten one or two more out of (the round)," Woods said. "But I really played well today. I was just very consistent, and nothing spectacular, just real solid golf. ... I was trying to just keep plugging along. I ended up making four in a row there. And then at 12 I had just a little flip sand wedge in there and make par, and I thought I stuffed it there at 13. It was a foot or two from being a kick-in. It would have been a really nice stretch there.
"I was trying to shoot my number (66) today, and I thought that would put me four or five back. I figured that would have been a good way to go into the weekend, being probably four or five back. It would have put me four back.
"But I'm still in it with a good chance."
This despite another run-in with a camera phone, which made him back off his tee shot on the difficult 14th hole. And this despite breaking an eyelet on his right shoe with his tee shot on the fifth. Woods, however, had a backup pair in the golf bag and switched out the right shoe for a new one on the sixth.
McIlroy won't be playing the sixth - or any golf, for that matter - this weekend. Joining McIlroy on the wrong side of the cut were this year's only two-time winner, Hunter Mahan, defending champion K.J. Choi, Ernie Els, Webb Simpson and Vijay Singh.
Add Steve Stricker to the list, as well. The winner of the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions entered the week with 49 consecutive cuts; his last missed cut was the 2009 PGA Championship. After rounds of 76-74, he headed back to his Wisconsin home. Since Woods' PGA Tour-record streak of 142 consecutive made cuts ended at the 2005 HP Byron Nelson Championship, no player has made 50 consecutive cuts.
McIlroy just wants to make one cut - at The Players. The reigning U.S. Open champion has now played the Players three times - and finished six rounds. For the third time in his career on a course he said doesn't fit his eye, McIlroy won't be seeing the weekend after rounds of 72-76.
Plain and simple, for now, the course has McIlroy's number.
"I just need to try and get the hang of this golf course somehow," said McIlroy, who had gone 22 consecutive official tournaments without missing the cut, dating to the Wells Fargo Championship last year. "I just find it pretty difficult. Off the tee I find pretty difficult around here. You have really got to position your ball in the fairway and to give yourself at least a chance to get to some of these pins. I just didn't do that over the last couple of days."
McIlroy opened his second round with a birdie - and then didn't make another one and instead came come with five bogeys. He has yet to break par in The Players. Last week, he finished 14-under par and lost in a playoff in the Wells Fargo. This week, he made only five birdies in two days.
Still, McIlroy, who skipped last year's event, was in good spirits after the round. And he vowed to one day figure out this place.
"I'll come back. I promise. I mean, hopefully I'm coming back here for another 20 years. If I don't figure it out on my 20th go, there's something wrong," he said with a chuckle. "Something about this place I just can't quite get to grips with. It's just a course that you have to figure out, and it's taken me a while. I'll come back next year and try to make it to the weekend.
"I've got a week off. I'll go back to Europe and get ready for Wentworth. But it's unbelievable. I shoot 14-under last week and I feel like I hit it just the same this week, and I'm going home. It's just one of those things. But you know, I'm not getting down on myself about it. I played well last week, and I've got a big part of the season coming up and looking forward to that."
By Steve DiMeglio, USA TODAY