Woods even overall; six behind leader Rose

Updated: April 9, 2004, 8:52 PM ET
Associated Press

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.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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