Rory McIlroy (71), Graeme McDowell (70) and Padraig Harrington(73) battled their way into the weekend in The Players at TPC Sawgrass as Jordan Spieth and Shane Lowry missed out and Tiger Woods celebrated his survival.
McIlroy had his moments of doubt but he dropped just two shots, at the sixth and 16th (water with his approach) as he added a steady 71 to his opening 69 to go into the third round tied for 13th on four under, four strokes behind leaders Jerry Kelly (65) and Kevin Na (69) on four under.
As Spieth shot 72 to miss the cut by three on level par and Phil Mickelson had two 6s and a 7 on his way to a 76 to miss the cut for the third straight year, Woods birdied the par-five ninth from 10 feet and celebrated making the cut on the mark (73-71) with the kind of fist pump he used to reserve for huge career moments.
"I feel like I'm playing well enough to get myself up there," Woods said. "I just need one good round and narrow up that gap between myself and the lead, and I feel like I can do that."
McIlroy described his 71 as "steady" and joked, "I was pretty bored out there.... Just try and hit fairways, hit greens, pick off my birdies when I could. Yeah."
It was hardly boring for Harrington, who had another trying day on the greens as he began with a three-putt double at the first and dropped another shot at the fifth before birdies at the par-five
McDowell bogeyed the first and third go go three over for the tournament but he responded with four birdies and 12 pars to make it with a shot to spare on one under.
As Lowry, his Sawgrass debut ended in disappointment as a poor run in the middle of his front nine left him on four over and with too much to do.
He opened with a birdied to get back to level for the tournament but made poor errors for a man of his talents and bogeyed the fourth and fifth and doubled the seventh.
Two birdies on the way home gave him an outside chance to make the cut but he bogeyed the 15th to slip back to three over.
As for McIlroy, he said: "I guess the tale of two halves in some ways, but even par for me on this front nine is a decent effort. I was happy to birdie 9 and disappointed not to at least pick up a shot coming in there. But anything under par is a decent score, and right in there going into the weekend."
Paired with Billy Horschel for round three, who he beat in 20 holes on his way to winning last week's World Golf Championships-Cadillac Match Play, McIlroy said: "It'll be nice tomorrow with two-balls being able to sort of find a little bit more rhythm out there."