Tiger Woods produced a vintage display with the putter to ensure he will return for the weekend at the 104th US PGA Championship in Tulsa.
The 15-time major winner carded a reassuring one-under 69 to finish on plus three for his first two rounds at Southern Hills after a disappointing 74 on the opening day.
With the cut projected on plus four – and leader Will Zalatoris racing out to nine under with a magnificent 65 – Woods needed to find some scoring form on the back nine to ensure he emulated his admirable performance at the US Masters in making the final 36 holes.
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His hopes looked in jeopardy when he dropped to five over by running up a double bogey on the par 3 11th hole after overcooking his tee shot.
But he single putted the next six holes with marvellous birdies on 13 and 16 reducing the obvious discomfort in his right leg as he continues his rehabilitation from his horrific car crash in February 2021.
A delightful approach to the 18th hole landed pin high before Woods took two more putts to finish his day in some style.
He might be out of immediate contention to land a fifth PGA title 15 years after his 2007 victory in Oklahoma, but it was another major step forward following his 47th place finish at Augusta last month.
He will certainly feel good about the condition of his game with his iron play much sharper from the travails of the opening round.
"As I alluded to earlier, I'm not going to be playing a lot of tournaments going forward. They're going to be the biggest tournaments," said Woods.
"I want to be able to play the major championships. I've always loved playing them.
"Coming back here to a place that I've had success on, to play against the best players in the world, that's what we all want to be able to do.
Fortunately enough, I'm able to somehow do it. I've had a great PT staff that have put Humpty-Dumpty back together, and we'll go out there tomorrow, and hopefully tomorrow I can do something like what Bubba (Watson) did today (with his 63).
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By contrast overnight leader Rory McIlroy – PGA champion in 2012 and 2014 – was forced to scramble for a 71 that saw him drop back to minus four, five strokes behind 2021 PGA Tour rookie of the year Zalatoris.
The Northern Irishman dropped shots on the 2nd and 7th holes, but made his solitary birdie of the day on 12 before a slew of pars saw him safely home on a day when he failed to truly ignite.
“There’s a long way to go,” commented McIlroy. “We’re going to see a completely different golf course the next two days because of the wind direction. It’s going to play completely differently."
Zalatoris – without a PGA Tour win to call his own yet – was at one with the relatively benign afternoon conditions as he went one better from his opening round of 66 courtesy of a bogey-free round of 65 that included five birdies.
He is one clear of Chilean hopeful Mito Pereira – playing in his second major after missing the cut at the 2019 US Open – whose stunning 64 included seven birdies and a bogey.
2017 PGA winner Justin Thomas produced a second straight 67 to move to minus six in the morning with double US Masters winner Bubba Watson a stroke further back after a sparkling 63 saw him unearth nine birdies to rampage through the field in equalling the lowest round in PGA history.
Raymond Floyd (1982) and Woods in 2007 both managed 63s.
"I'm hoping I can shoot a number like Bubba did today tomorrow," added Woods. "That's where my mind is at right now. I've got to do some things physically to get myself there tomorrow and it will be a quick turnaround.
That's the reward you get for just making the cut. You get to tee off early the next day, and hopefully I can get it in. The weather is supposed to be a little more difficult and be a little more testy, and hopefully that's the case.
"If that's the case, hopefully I can post a good round and at least move up the board, get myself within striking distance on Sunday. I'm pretty far back, but you just never know.
"Major championships are hard to win. We've seen guys with big leads or have made big comebacks, so you just never know."
US Open champion Jon Rahm carded a 69 to make the cut on plus two with Open holder Collin Morikawa on plus four after signing for a 72.
But Masters champion and world No 1 Scottie Scheffler will miss the cut on plus six after a 75 with Dustin Johnson also heading home after a second successive 73.
Jordan Spieth (69) is one over and will need to fire a low score on Saturday to keep alive his hopes of the career grand slam.
PGA Championship second round leaderboard
- -9 W Zalatoris (US)
- -8 M Pereira (Chi)
- -6 J Thomas (US)
- -5 B Watson (US)
- -4 R McIlroy (NIR)
- -4 A Ancer (Mex)
- -4 D Riley (US)
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