When Tiger Woods finally entered the scorer's hut just off the 18th green Friday afternoon at Augusta National, he was, for a moment, shielded from any breeze.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — When Tiger Woods finally entered the scorer's hut just off the 18th green Friday afternoon at Augusta National, he was, for a moment, shielded from any breeze. There, he was presented with the evidence of what that wind did to him in the second round of the Masters: a three-birdie, three-bogey effort that had him all but treading water, water made choppy from the gusts.
"Conditions were tough," Woods said, jaw clenched. "It was just tough all around."
Yet moments earlier, on the fairway just over Woods's shoulder, Kenny Perry had waffled between a pair of clubs, selected one, thrown his ball into the same wind that befuddled Woods, and stuck it perhaps a size-13 shoe from the pin. Perry made that putt to finish off a wonderful 67 that was devoid of a single bogey or a single complaint about the weather. If the breeze kicked up as Perry walked off the 18th, he didn't notice, because he was busy thrusting his right fist into the air as the gallery cheered, then putting the left one up as well.
"I was so comfortable out there today," Perry said.
Perhaps Perry was a bit too triumphant for a Friday afternoon at Augusta National, but his play and his words served to remind folks that the conditions defined the day only for those who allowed them to. Perry's brilliant round in less-than brilliant conditions put him in a tie for the lead with first-round leader Chad Campbell, whose 2-under 70 left him at 9-under 135 at the midway point of a tournament whose leaderboards are devoid, for now, of Woods, whose even-par 72 left him 2-under — a frustrated afterthought whose emotions were exactly the opposite of Perry's.
"That was probably one of the greatest rounds I've ever played, to be honest," Perry said, and considering he has contended in precisely one major and no Masters in a 23-year career, he's right — wind be damned.
Augusta National, which had seemed so benign on a gorgeous, calm Thursday, was at its wait-is-this-the-right-club best Friday. Padraig Harrington, winner of the last two majors, stood over his putt on the 15th green only to have the ball waffle in the wind, requiring a rules consultation reminiscent of the Yalta Conference. Players went to their bag on the tee at the par-3 12th, pulled a club, walked to the ball — then returned to the bag again, befuddled.
"It's perfect conditions," said Hunter Mahan, who skidded to a 75 after an opening 66, "for head-scratching."
Yet plenty of players scratched their heads, made a decision and committed to the shot that stood before them. Among those in that club, just behind the two Americans who hold the lead: Angel Cabrera of Argentina, who shot a second straight 68 to sit three back; American Todd Hamilton, whose 70-138 came in the morning, before the wind began to truly howl; and South African Tim Clark, the 2006 runner-up whose 71-139 put him, too, in excellent position for the weekend.
And that group doesn't even include Anthony Kim, the 23-year-old who won Woods's tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., last summer. An afterthought headed into the day after an opening 75, Kim ran off four straight birdies on the front side, double-bogeyed the 10th, then ran off four more birdies in a row. By the end of Friday, not only did he have the day's low round of 65 — playing in the group directly behind Woods, in the same conditions — but he had a tournament-record 11 birdies.
"I feel like it's a 58 right now," said Kim, who sits five behind the leaders.
Then, of course, there is Woods. Is seven shots back with 36 holes remaining doable? "Yeah," Woods said, and that might be true.
"I wouldn't be too concerned if I was Tiger," Kim said.
But if Woods is to win his fifth green jacket, he will have to do so by overcoming circumstances he hasn't surmounted in past Masters. In his four wins here, the largest deficit he faced at the tournament's midpoint came in 2005, when Chris DiMarco posted back-to-back 67s to lead Woods by six. But back then, only one other player, the Swede Thomas Bjorn, stood between Woods and the lead. When he went to bed Friday night, Woods looked up the leaderboard at 18 players.
"I've got to play a little bit better than I have," Woods said, "make a few more putts and clean up my round."
Woods, of course, is coming off surgery to reconstruct his left knee, and though he won two weeks ago at Bay Hill, he has not been sharp here — this week, or for a few tournaments. Though he hasn't finished out of the top 3 here since 2004, his last 15 rounds at Augusta National have yielded only one round in the 60s.
Perhaps, then, this Masters sets up not as another coronation, but as a discovery, just as it was when Iowa's Zach Johnson won in 2007 and South African Trevor Immelman took the title a year ago. The world learned of 48-year-old Perry last fall, when he served as the veteran host of the Ryder Cup, held in his home state of Kentucky, and the American victory there defines his career. But he only once sniffed a major title, the 1996 PGA Championship, when he lost a playoff to Mark Brooks.
Campbell, it's worth remembering, led this event at the midway point in 2006. But he shot 75 that Saturday to fall behind, then was beaten by Phil Mickelson on Sunday.
"I don't know exactly what I learned," Campbell said, "but I know it's nice that I've been in that position before."
Woods, too, has been in that position. Countless times. He is not there now. And whether the weekend is breezy or beautiful, how he handles the conditions and himself will determine whether he can claw his way back to that spot by Sunday evening.