- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- It was a scene we've witnessed hundreds of times through the years, Tiger Woods tapping in for a two-putt birdie on the 18th hole.
Woods swung his putter aloft in his left hand to acknowledge the applause from the gallery at Baltusrol Golf Club. He walked to where his caddie, Steve Williams, awaited him with outstretched hand. As Kevin Sutherland putted out, Woods and Williams grinned at each other as if Woods had just taken the 36-hole lead of the PGA Championship.
One big difference, though: Woods made that putt to make the cut, on the number, at 4-over 144. It was like watching Al Pacino film a scene for a student movie, or George W. Bush press the flesh in a race for the school board.
"We're done with the round, and we were talking about it [coming] up 18," Woods said. "We had to disappoint you guys. You just couldn't write that article."
That one being the one about him missing the cut, and Woods got the laugh he was looking for. He's 12 strokes behind the leader, Phil Mickelson. Woods will tee off in the third twosome of the day Saturday, at 8:20 a.m. He likes to play early in the morning, all right, but on Wednesday, not the weekend.
"I'll be setting the pins for Phil and the boys," Woods said, laughing. "Make sure the dew is swept off and making sure everything is nice and neat. Yeah, I'll be out here early."
One cut streak ended in May, but another one survives until 2006. Woods has played four rounds in every major championship he has entered since he turned pro in the fall of 1996. That's 36 and counting. But the only time he worked this hard to make the cut was at the 2002 Masters, when he got up and down out of the bunker on No. 9 (a rain delay forced him to start the second round at No. 10) to make par and stay on the number.
If you had to boil the high and lows of Woods' second round to one shot, it would have been his third at the 650-yard 17th, the longest thing in the world not written by Tolstoy.
Woods hit his drive so well that he had only 269 yards to the front of the green. He stood 4 over, right on the cut line, but with two par-5s left, what could go wrong?
Woods pulled his 3-wood and figured at worst, he would bounce one over the green into the thick stuff and still be able to get up and down for birdie.
You could argue that Woods, teetering on the cut line as he was, shouldn't have attempted to reach the unreachable. But as his friend, TNT announcer Charles Barkley said, standing near the 18th green, "He's not trying to make the cut! He's trying to win the tournament! You scared? Get a dog! C'mon, man. You know he ain't got any lay up in his body."
(Memo to networks: Get Barkley in the booth behind 18. Pronto.)
So Woods hits the high 3-wood, and the ball just misses the left edge of the green. It caroms off the slope between the green and the left bunker, skitters across the sand and comes to rest under the left edge of the bunker.
To aim at the hole, Woods would have had to stand well above the ball. Instead, he stood with his back to the green, and aimed away from the green. The ball landed in the thick grass in front of the bunker. Woods pitched to 10 feet above the hole, and the par putt burned the left edge of the cup.
"I figured if I [finish] birdie-eagle or something like that, because 18 is a pretty accessible pin, you know, I'm right there at 1-over-par looking pretty good," Woods said. "Then all of a sudden, here I am back at 5-over-par, even for the day."
Woods played all day like a guy not worried about his gas mileage. Gun it, red light. Gun it, red light.
When Woods split the first fairway with his first swing of the round, reaching a plateau above a gentle upslope, a fan behind the ropes on the right side of the fairway, "You know who that was! Tells you who that was!"
Behind the fan stood a scoreboard with the name Mickelson in black and the number 8 in red. Mickelson already had finished his round of 65, the very number Woods had set up as a target. That would have gotten him back to even par for the championship -- and look out, weekend.
When Woods hit his second shot on the 478-yard par-4 six feet from the hole, and knocked his birdie putt squarely into the cup, he dropped to 4 over, and all was right with the world.
Then he bogeyed the next three holes. A three-putt on No. 2, a wayward drive on No. 3, and a tee ball into the pond fronting the green on the par-3 fourth. Woods dropped a ball at the edge of the pond and hit his third shot. As it sucked back toward the pin, a tree limb cracked and fell from a tree on the left side of the green.
"I feel sorry for the gentlemen that got hurt there," Woods said, "but hypothetically, if I didn't dump it in the water and play resumes at a normal pace, you guys would have been right underneath that tree ..."
What a card. Woods harbored no ill will toward his game, the golf gods, or anyone else Friday evening.
"If there's any tournament that you can kind of move your way up the board, it's a major championship. But a lot of it is dependent on what Phil does over the next couple of days. If Phil goes ahead and shoots two good rounds on the weekend in the mid-60s, he'll probably win the tournament."
Woods just felt relief. He had lived to fight for another two days.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Ivan.Maisel@espn3.com.
In making the cut Friday, Tiger Woods spoiled every writer's big story. And that's just the way he likes it.