SAN MARTIN, Calif. – The fog finally lifted at CordeValle and revealed a Tiger Woods who looked vaguely familiar.
Woods ran off three straight birdies early in his round, survived a rough patch around the turn and kept the stress to a minimum Friday in his round of 3-under 68 in the Frys.com Open that assured he would be around for the weekend.
'I don't like missing cuts, period,' Woods said. 'If I miss the cut, that means you can't win the tournament on the weekend. I've got a shot at it this weekend.'
He still was seven shots behind Paul Casey, who is making a revival of his own.
Casey, at No. 135 on the money list and in danger of losing his PGA Tour card, has been fighting a foot injury since the middle of May. He showed signs of getting better by winning in South Korea last week, and then he got over jet lag in time to post a 7-under 64.
That put him at 8-under 134. Bud Cauley, who turned pro this summer and is trying to avoid having to go to Q-School, had a 66 and was one shot behind. Fog delayed the start of the second round by 2 hours, 20 minutes, meaning it would not finish until Saturday.
Ernie Els, a surprise entry to this Fall Series event, made a steady move up the leaderboard and had an 8-foot birdie putt to tie for the lead on the 16th hole. He missed it and was at 7 under, and will have two holes to play Saturday.
Woods was so disgusted this his putting after his opening 73 that he went to the practice green in the chill of late afternoon after the first round and rapped 5-foot putts, sometimes using only one hand.
He also put two strips of lead tape on the bottom of his putter, and it seemed to pay off. He holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 14 to begin his run of three straight birdies, and all but one of his birdie putts looked to have a chance. He was missing, but not by much.
'I hit one bad putt today, and that was it,' Woods said. 'Every other putt was on line.'
It was the first time since the Masters that Woods made a 36-hole cut, and the first time in two months that he broke par. That speaks only to the kind of stop-and-start year he has had, missing three months this summer to let injuries to his left leg fully heal, and missing the last seven weeks when he failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.
And while the 68 was what he needed to make it to the weekend, the pleasant sunshine over CordeValle allowed for good scoring. He wasn't the only one who took advantage, and several others did far better, starting with Casey.
Casey came up just short of the green on the par-5 15th, and then rolled in birdie putts of 40 feet and 25 feet on the next two holes, before finishing the back nine with a shot into 12 feet on the 18th. He added a pair of birdies on the front nine to put himself atop the leaderboard and raise his hopes going into the weekend.
'To be honest, it's probably the best I've hit the golf ball all year,' Casey said.
It's a good time for that to happen. Casey is playing the next two tournaments to meet the minimum requirement of 15 starts. If he doesn't finish among the top 125, he likely would get enough exemptions as a past champion and for being among the top 50 in the world that he wouldn't need to go to Q-School.
His only concern is playing better. The first sign should have been Thursday, when he was still dragging from the flight from South Korea, got to the top of the leaderboard only to lose a few shots at the end of his round for a 70.
Cauley left school early from Alabama this summer because he thought he was ready for the PGA Tour, and he has done little to show otherwise. Through six starts, he has earned $331,150. If he finishes the equivalent of No. 125 on the money list – he is likely about $300,000 away – he could join an exclusive list of players who avoided Q-School, which includes Woods, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard and most recently Ryan Moore.
'I want to miss Q-School as much as the rest of the guys,' Cauley said.
Woods had a 64 in mind when he arrived at CordeValle to a thick fog, twice warming up on the range as the delays dragged out. His three straight birdies included an 8-foot putt on the 15th after driving into a bunker, and a 7-iron to 3 feet on the 16th.
'I had it going early there, three in a row to get to 3 under par for the day, and if we could just keep it going, I could shoot my number,' Woods said. 'I made a couple mistakes there at 18 and 1. But overall, I'm still within seven shots of it right now.'
His 3-wood on the 18th went just enough left to find a hazard, and he had to get up-and-down just to save bogey. It really looked ugly on No. 1, when he snap-hooked his tee shot and threw his driver to the ground. With the ball on the side of a hill and his feet on the cart path, Woods slipped badly on the swing and tumbled over, coming up well short of the green. He pitched only to 25 feet.
That was his seventh consecutive tee shot without hitting the fairway. On the next hole, however, he drilled one down the middle on a far more difficult driving hole, and missed only one fairway after that.