AUGUSTA, Ga. — The body language said it all.
Phil Mickelson? Ended his day with another long, snaking putt for birdie on the final hole of the day to complete a climb back from the leaderboard abyss.
Rory McIlroy? Ended his day with a tricky putt for par on the 18th hole, after his second shot flew off to the left side of the green. That capped a day where he put himself one shot behind the two leaders at the top.
Tiger Woods? Well …
“Not having much,” Woods told ESPN when asked what was the most frustrating part of the day. “I didn’t quite have it today with my swing. I just had to hang in there and be patient.”
The new “Big Three” at Augusta National Golf Club this week have had varying levels of success through the first 36 holes at The Masters. But what began as a week where all three of them were finally healthy and playing well enough coming here, leading to high expectations — only Woods is finding himself behind the pack.
McIlroy sits at 4-under par after a 3-under second round. Mickelson is at 2-under after a 4-under day. Woods is languishing back behind almost everyone, finishing his second day with another erratic performance, shooting a 3-over, 75. After two days here, he is 3-over for the tournament, eight shots back of the Fred Couples and Jason Dufner at the top.
Despite poor drives on Thursday, he was able to scramble enough for an even-par finish, which left him within striking distance. But Friday’s 18 holes were a virtual nightmare for the four-time Masters winner.
He once again sprayed the ball all over the golf course, hitting it into galleries, bunkers, on the sides of slopes and almost into water hazards repeatedly. Twice, television cameras caught Woods yelling minor profanity after tee shots on No. 13 and No. 16. After his drive on the par-3 16th hole, Woods dropped his club on the ground in disgust and then kicked it about 10 feet out of the tee box.
I just tried to give it everything I had on each and every shot,” Woods told the network. “I was grinding hard.”
Conversely, his two superstar cohorts enjoyed near-pefect days.
McIlroy was in a group of a half-dozen players tied for a share of the lead at one point. Mickelson grinding out a 68 to get himself back in contention after a near-disastrous round of his own on Thursday.
“I feel like Saturday is the day you can really make a move,” Mickelson said after his round. “Sunday, you kind of cherish the back nine and it’s exciting. But I feel like Saturday is the day you have got to play well to get yourself in position. Tomorrow will be a critical day. It will be a critical day to get myself in a spot where I don’t have to make up too much ground from the leaders.”
The 23-year old Northern Irishman who slept on the 36-hole lead last year before a final-round collapse, feels he’s in a great position heading into the weekend.
“I think the whole round (Thursday) was important to me,” McIlroy said. “To not let the start get to me and those two birdies at the end really gave me some momentum going into today. But year, that was a big challenge for me. A big test, because obviously not the way you want to start the tournament. And to sort of stay patient and hang in there, I felt like I did that pretty well.”
Woods, though, was the opposite.
After making birdies on two of his first three holes of the day, the wheels on the Tigermobile started to wobble before flying off. He bogeyed three times to close out the front nine and then bogeyed the 11th hole. On the par-5 13th, he appeared to hit his second shot to the green in Rae’s Creek, but the ball held up on the very edge of the embankment — allowing him to drop and eventually make a par.
But then there were more wild shots and missed opportunities.
And once again, Woods wondering what’s wrong. But still feeling confident.
“It’s one of the neat things about this tournament, is the 10-shot rule,” said Woods, who made up seven shots in the final round last year. “I just need to cut that down a little bit tomorrow.”
Contributor Brendan Prunty is the golf writer for the Newark Star-Ledger in New Jersey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed at Twitter.com/BrendanPrunty. This is his second Masters tournament.