Graeme McDowell had to produce another grinding performance just to make the cut but he was probably more frustrated than Tiger Woods, who bogeyed the last three holes to fall four strokes behind leaders Justin Rose and Bill Haas in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Woods must win at Bay Hill if he is to regain the world No 1 ranking from Rory McIlroy, who plays his final warm up for the Masters in Houston next week.
But bogeys at the last three holes turned another super round into a 70, the same score posted by overnight leader and playing partner Rose following his three-putt bogey at the 18th.
The Englishman shrugged off his error at the finish as he ended the day tied for the lead on nine under with Bill Haas, who shot a fine 66 to set the clubhouse target. As for Woods, Rose said: “He was a couple away from a 64.” Leaderboard
Woods too was trying not to sound too despondent about his finish as he told PGATour.com:
“I played way better than what I scored today,” Woods said. “I missed a couple of short ones, and I had a rough finish.”
Woods’ troubles began in earnest on the par-5 16th, where he drove into a fairway bunker. His foot slipped on his next shot and his ball came up short of the green and tumbled into the water.
He took a drop and pitched onto the green but the ball scooted long and left, stopping 27 feet from the hole to set up a two-putt bogey.
On the next hole, Woods tugged his tee shot on the par-3 long and left and failed to get up and down.
A tee shot into the right rough on the finishing hole forced Woods to lay up and again he left himself a long way from the hole, two-putting from 30 feet for the final blow.
“The good news is we’ve got 36 holes to go,” Woods said. “Certainly four shots can be made up.”
Earlier Woods had played superbly while still missing some gilt-edged chances. But it was always a struggle for McDowell.
He said his rhythm was off on Thursday, when he did well to card a level par 72 after a poor performance from tee to green on his front nine.
He felt he had sorted things out on the range later but it was more of the same on Friday afternoon, resulting in a 74 that was good enough to make the cut on the mark and seal an early morning tee time with Lee Westwood, as he pointed out later on Twitter:
Starting on the front nine, the Portrush man holed a 20 footer for par at the third after a tough chip from the right, greenside rough.
But while he holed a 30 footer for birdie at the par-five fourth after a poor bunker shot, it was to be his first and last birdie of the day.
After missing a 15 foot chance the next, he had a double bogey seven at the sixth where he hit his lay up into the rough, bunkered his third and hit another poor bunker shot to 20 feet before three-putting.
McDowell has worked hard on his bunker play over the winter but he’s had trouble when visiting the soft bunkers at Bay Hill before and it certainly cost him shots in the opening two rounds this year.
A rare leaked drive into the right rough at the eighth led to a bogey [forced lay up, a poor wedge from just under 100 yards and two putts from 25 feet] that left him on the cut line.
It is a testament to his determination that he managed to par the last 10 holes but it was made all the harder by his playing partners Ian Poulter and Keegan Bradley, who both bogeyed the tough 18th but still played that stretch in a combined seven under par to shoot matching 69s.
McDowell will take heart from an excellent four at the last and the fact that he has two more competitive rounds to hone his game before the Masters.
As for Woods, the world No 2 was left to rue another poor finish to a round.
He made late bogeys at Torrey Pines and Doral but had big leads both times and won those tournaments comfortably in the end. He also bogeyed the 17th and 18th as he rounded the turn in Bay Hill in the opening round.
“I’ve sort of made my share of mistakes on the last few holes the last couple days,” Woods admitted. “I need to clean that up.
“It’s just the way it goes,” Woods said. “16 was unfortunate, 17 I made a bad swing, and 18 I made a bad swing. All three holes I hit beautiful putts I thought I made, but they’re not realistic putts.
“I need to do a better job like I did most of the day getting in stiff and making those putts.”
While he’s just four shots behind Rose and Haas, who lead by one from John Huh, he fared a lot better than four time major winner Phil Mickelson.
The left hander added a 79 to his opening 73 to miss the cut by six shots but insisted he wasn’t fazed with the Masters just three weeks away, as he told reporters.
“No not for Augusta. This course is totally different. I need to get my own game where it needs to be to be competitive,” said Mickelson, who had two triple bogeys, a double bogey and two bogeys (and just one birdie). “From where it was a few months ago, where I felt so good and my ball-striking was some of the best I’ve ever had it is a little surprising because just a couple months ago I was hitting it really well.”
McIlroy may have made a good decision in deciding to skip a tough course like Bay Hill in favour of the less punishing track in Houston next week to continue his Masters preparations.
As for McDowell, he’s played enough good golf already this year to know that the keen eye of coach Peter Cowen will have him back firing on full cylinders in no time.