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Still wild off tee, Woods makes cut as putting touch returns

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist
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Tiger Woods and caddie Joe LaCava consult during second-round play at CordeValle. (AP)  
Tiger Woods and caddie Joe LaCava consult during second-round play at CordeValle. (AP)  

SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- Tiger Woods was only partly kidding when he said he hadn't worked on his short game in general, or his putting in particular, while doing his physical rehab and swing overhaul of the past few months.

That's true ... pretty much. As is sometimes the case with Woods, an asterisk or some interpretation is required.

In the spirit of full disclosure, swing coach Sean Foley admitted Friday the two have been tinkering with his admittedly average short stroke.

"Yeah," Foley smiled, "the last two days."

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Looking a lot more like a guy with some years left on the calendar after all, Woods made six birdies and fired a 3-under 68 in the second round of the Frys.com Open, breaking par for the first time in seven rounds and avoiding an embarrassing double-whammy end to his PGA Tour season.

After tip-toeing along the projected cutline with an opening 73 and facing a second straight weekend off for the first time as a pro, Woods made the weekend with ease and was clearly feeling better about things.

"If I miss the cut, that means you can't win the tournament on the weekend," Woods said. "I've got a shot at it this weekend."

Well, maybe. Woods was still hitting a scary array of wild shots off the tee, and was clearly in prime form with his infamous temper, but the putting that has been dogging him for two seasons looked like it had been cured overnight.

After missing three putts from inside six feet in the first round, inducing cringes and averted glances from the gallery, Woods actually looked confident and poised on the greens. Darned right, it's been a while.

Foley said they noticed Woods had been putting too much weight on his left side, which had thrown off his alignment and sight lines. He didn't miss anything inside six feet Friday.

"I hit one bad putt today, and that was it," Woods said, relieved.

It's been months since he's uttered anything remotely close to that sentence or sentiment. Of course, Woods has been crazily inconsistent not just from round to round, but from hole to hole, with all 14 clubs at times. The weekend could bring almost any permutation.

For instance, Woods was raking it so wildly left off the tee Friday that he only hit one fairway on the front nine and had fans scattering on a couple of occasions. Other parts were solid, though.

"You can see it's close," playing partner Louis Oosthuizen said. "He's still struggling a bit with the driver, but he's hitting his irons well. He hit quite a few amazing iron shots."

Oosthuizen, who won the 2010 British Open, last played with Woods at Doral three years ago, when Woods won five times worldwide by mid-June and before oak trees and fire hydrants started dancing in his career path.

"In 2008, he was making pars from all over the place," Oosthuizen said. "Now he's making bogeys easily. Obviously, he's working on a few things and going through a rough patch, but he's too good a player not to come back."

Woods managed three birdies in a row in one stretch, but certainly had to dust himself off a few times at CordeValle Golf Club. The par-3's aside, he yanked seven straight tee shots wide left, including a 3-wood shot into a deep ravine on his ninth hole that prompted him to curse himself with a series of audible GDs.

No, that doesn’t stand for Golf Digest.

A search party of nine people failed to find the ball in the canyon, and he scrambled to salvage a bogey.

Still running hot when he made the turn and starting his back nine on the first tee, Woods hit another dead pull and angrily tomahawked his driver into the turf before a crowded grandstand full of people. The club pin-wheeled down the tee box and leaving a huge dent in the turf.

Amazingly, the self-indulgent, embarrassing incident seemed to bleed whatever anger-management issues he was feeling. After finding one fairway on the front nine, he found five of the last six on his back nine. Guess the driver learned its lesson.

As ever, the parade of pups looking to knock Woods farther down the pecking order was evident. After getting waxed by 19-year-old amateur playing partner Patrick Cantlay in the first round, Woods is presently staring up the leaderboard at 21-year-old Bud Cauley, who turned pro in June after a hugely successful college career at Alabama.

Cauley, in second place and one shot behind leader Paul Casey, was 7 years old when Woods won his first major at the 1997 Masters, which he doesn't recall watching live.

"My dad bought me the VHS tape," Cauley said.

In a VHS format? Was the Woods win that long ago? Playing in his seventh PGA Tour event, Cauley was half-seriously asked whether he would ever have envisioned leading Woods by six strokes.

"I would say, 'Perfect,'" Cauley laughed.

Woods was still a distant seven shots behind Casey, the top-ranked player in the field at world No. 20, but at least he gets to hang out for the weekend. Good thing, because he had plans to attend a Stanford football game late Saturday afternoon.

As for beyond that, the second round at least provided a glimmer of hope that Woods could not only recapture some semblance of his full swing, but the clutch short stroke that delivered 71 victories in his first 14 seasons as a professional.

Foley, who isn't one to complain, said he has been reading some of the daily obits about the former world No. 1 and biting his lip. He pointed out that Friday marked Woods' eighth completed competitive round since the Masters, six months ago.

Sure, Woods has skidded 49 spots since January to No. 51 in the world, but the extenuating circumstances are clearly legit, Foley said.

"It's all about patience and perseverance," Foley said optimistically. "It's all going to be great."

Woods remains several notches shy of that lofty adjective, and probably skews closer to "average" at the moment. But this time, rest assured that nobody laughed when Foley said it.

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