Tiger Woods avoided missing two cuts in a row for the first time in his career but Padraig Harrington (76), Graeme McDowell (71) and world No 1 Rory McIlroy (76) all failed to qualify for the weekend in the Players Championship at a firm and fiery TPC Sawgrass.
Back on song with his game after following a 40th place finish at Augusta with a missed cut at Quail Hollow last week, Woods shot a four under par 68 to survive the level par cut by two strokes.
He goes into the third round tied for 30th and six shots behind Zach Johnson (66), Kevin Na (69) and Matt Kuchar (68), who lead by stroke on eight under from Harris English.
However, it was another disappointing week at Sawgrass for all three Irishmen, who have had little or no fortune on the Stadium Course in recent years.
McIlroy has played six rounds in three years but has yet to break par, adding a 76 to his opening 72 to miss the cut for the third time in as many appearances, this time by four shots.
The world No 1, who could lose his crown to Lee Westwood or Luke Donald on Sunday, began with a birdie at the 10th but followed it with five bogeys and confessed that he simply didn’t position his ball well enough off the tee on a course that requires accuracy over power and a deadly putting stroke.
“Off the tee I find pretty difficult around here,” said McIlroy, who skipped the event last year. “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…”
Admitting he made a mistake in staying away on management advice last term, he hopes he can get to the grips with the course in future seasons and admitted he was surprised that he didn’t conquer his Stadium Course hoodoo this year.
“I’ve come back here a much better player, I feel [since my last appearance in 2010]. A much more consistent player; experienced player; and yeah, I felt like I would come here and think my way around the golf course and just try and play steady golf. I tried to do that, and just didn’t happen.”
McIlroy joked that he’ll eventually work out how to play the course, saying: “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.”.
His next appearace comes in the BMW PGA at Wentworth in two weeks, where he will be joined by Harrington and McDowell, who shot a second round 71 but still missed the cut by one.
After opening with a 74, McDowell looked dead and buried when he bogeyed the sixth and 10th to go four over. He birdied the 11th, 12th and 16th to head to the last needing a birdie to make the cut but just missed his 12 footer and eventually learned his fate towards the end of a long day.
Harrington was the best placed of the Irish following his opening 69 but the Dubliner was always on the back foot after carving his drive into trees at the 10th and running up a double bogey six.
Strugglin on the greens again, he shot himself in the foot under pressure with back to back three-putt bogeys late in his round and never had time to recover.
Having birdied the 11th to take some of the pain out of his opening six, he was at his most fragile on the greens for the remainder of the day. When the pressure mounted in more testing afternoon conditions and he started to miss fairways and greens, he was unable to hole those crucial short putts to keep his head above water.
When he bogeyed both the 18th and the first off poor drives (his ninth and 10th holes), he suddenly found himself sitting on the projected level par cut mark with eight holes still to play.
A birdie four at the second got him back into the red but the wheels came off when he missed four footers for par at the fifth and sixth, three putting each time.
Needing to play the last three holes in one under to make the cut, Harrington bogeyed the par three eigth when he found the back bunker and then thinned his splash shot over the pin to the fringe.
A 20 foot par putt failed to drop and he then burned the edge of the hole with an attempted chip in for eagle at the par-five ninth. The six footer he holed for birdie might have been significant but 72 players made it to the clubhouse at level par or better, leaving Harrington with a weekend to work on his putting.
Luke Donald (69) and Lee Westwood (70) are tied for 13th, five shots off the lead on three under par.
According to the Official World Golf Ranking, Donald will go back to World Number 1 if he finishes solo fourth or better while Westwood could go back to No 1 with a win, provided Donald isn’t solo second.