Former world number one Tiger Woods celebrated keeping a proud record alive in the Players Championship – and then insisted he could still win a third title at Sawgrass.
Woods had not missed the cut in 16 previous appearances in the so-called ’fifth major’, although he has withdrawn twice through injury, but looked in danger of an early exit with one hole to play on Friday.
However, the 39-year-old birdied the par-five ninth, his final hole, to card a round of 71 and eventually made the cut right on the mark of level par.
Woods punched the air when the vital birdie putt dropped and later explained his reaction, telling Sky Sports: “I figured it was probably not going to go to one over. We knew that playing the last couple of holes I needed to make birdie on one of the last two holes and I did.
“I haven’t got a lot out of my rounds. Each round I should have been probably a few under par. I just need to start capitalising on my opportunities.”
Woods has started just four events in 2015, shooting a career-worst score of 82 to miss the cut in the first of them and withdrawing through injury after just 11 holes of the second on February 5.
After two months out to work on his game Woods returned to action in the Masters and finished joint 17th at Augusta National, but revealed on Tuesday he had not slept for three days following the end of his relationship with skier Lindsey Vonn.
At level par Woods was eight shots behind halfway leaders Kevin Na and veteran Jerry Kelly, with Rickie Fowler, Branden Grace, David Hearn and Chris Kirk two shots behind on six under.
“As of right now, if it stays the way it’s at, literally anybody who makes the cut can win the golf tournament,” Woods added.
Na held the lead going into the final round in 2012, but was famously heckled by the crowd as he battled the yips – namely struggling to start his swing – in a closing round of 76.
“A lot of the guys when you have that they fall off the planet,” Na told reporters after adding a 69 to his opening 67. “They play poorly and nobody really sees and hears about it. The weird thing was I was playing some of my best golf and I couldn’t take the club back, and the whole world saw me do it.
“I’m just going to go out there and try to enjoy what’s going on right now, which I have been the first two days. If I keep enjoying myself, the good results are going to come.”
World number one Rory McIlroy was four off the lead on four under after a few erratic moments in a second round of 71.
McIlroy’s drive on the par-five second was hooked so badly into the trees that it only travelled 137 yards and although he saved par, another wayward drive on the sixth led to a bogey.
The 26-year-old pitched to within inches of the hole on the ninth to set up a birdie and also picked up shots on the 11th and 12th, but then hit his second shot to the 16th into the water to run up a bogey six.
Ryder Cup team-mate Ian Poulter was alongside McIlroy on four under after a 69, despite being heckled by a spectator behind the 17th green as he went to attempt his par putt. Masters champion Jordan Spieth, playing alongside McIlroy, missed the cut after adding a 72 to his opening 75.