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Woods even overall; six behind leader Rose

4/9/2004 - Tiger Woods

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Guess who finally showed up at the Masters.

Tiger Woods.

Woods looked more like his old self Friday than the guy who's
been struggling to find his swing the past few months. He made
impossibly long putts, dazzling chips and even a few circus shots
and finished with a 3-under 69, climbing back to even par for the
tournament -- and within striking distance of the lead.

"I'm still here," said Woods, who is six strokes behind leader
Justin Rose. "You've just got to take baby steps. I tried to get
back to even par and thought that was reasonable, certainly viable,
with the way I was shooting."

That alone is a major accomplishment. Usually the poster child
for perfection, Woods' game has been in disarray recently. He
hasn't won a major since the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage, and a
birdieless round Thursday had him fighting to make the cut for a
second straight tournament, as well as the second straight Masters.

The three-time champion's opening 75 was the fifth straight
round he had failed to finish below par in a major -- the longest
stretch of his career.

Woods appeared to be in trouble again Friday when he missed a
makable 8-foot par putt on the par-4 11th. After the ball rolled
past the hole, Woods took a baseball-like chop at his ball, checking
his swing as the crowd gasped.

"It was a terrible putt," he said. "I had all the momentum
going for me at that point. It was a big putt I thought I had to
make, and I didn't do it."

He was so disgusted he chucked his ball into the water after
tapping in for bogey. But when he tossed the ball, he apparently
got rid of his bad karma right along with it.

Two holes later, he two-putted from 40 feet for a birdie. Then,
on the par-5 15th, he chipped within 8 feet and rolled it in for
another birdie. His best shot came on the par-3 No. 16, when his
tee shot hit 8 feet shy of the pin and rolled slowly back down to
the edge of the green, leaving him a 40-foot putt for birdie.

Woods took a solid whack at the ball and it rolled ever so
slowly toward the hole, losing speed with every inch. But it went
just far enough.

When the ball dropped into the hole, Woods screamed and pumped
his fist several times. The crowd whooped and hollered, thrilled to
finally see the Woods they're used to.

He looked as if he might get on one of his patented rolls with a
monster drive on the par-4 17th, coming within 70 yards of the flag
on the front of the green. But the wind took his approach shot,
carrying it over the back of the green. Woods was stunned, even
throwing a few blades of grass in the air to make sure he had
gauged the wind right.

He rallied nicely with a masterful chip within 2 feet and tapped
in to save par.

His woes weren't over quite yet, though. His tee shot on the
18th sailed high and far right, clipping a tree and dropping into
the rough off the 10th fairway. He actually had a clear shot to the
green -- except for the large oak tree whose branches blocked his
way.

So Woods simply went over the tree, clearing it and landing 20
feet from the pin. He two-putted for another par, making his 121st
straight cut.

"(Thursday) was a bit of a difficult day, but I hung in
there," Woods said. "I played really well today. I knew I had to
get myself into it and make some birdies. I missed a couple of
short ones I should have made, but overall, I performed really
well."

And just think of what might have been if he'd made a few of
those short ones. Woods missed several putts within 10 feet, and
his eagle putt on the par-5 No. 2 lipped out.

But after his recent struggles, Woods will happily take it.