Woods makes the Masters cut for a record 24th time in a row

AUGUSTA — A howling gust — the kind that created havoc at Augusta National all day long — struck the 18th green just as Tiger Woods was lining up yet another testy putt. Fine particles of sand stirred from the pearl-white bunkers, whipping across the slick green surface.

One caddie’s hat was blown off. Woods turned away quickly, avoiding the potentially painful daggers to his eyes.

Not to worry.

It was just a windy respite on the way to another bit of Masters history Friday.

When the blast subsided enough to look again, Woods rolled in a 5-foot putt to cap an even-par 72 that ensured he made the cut for a record 24th time in a row.

Of course, his sights were fixated on a far greater goal — a record-tying sixth green jacket.

Woods broke the cut mark he shared with three-time champion Gary Player, who advanced to the weekend 23 straight times beginning in 1959, and 1992 winner Fred Couples, whose own streak lasted until 2007.

“I’m here. I have a chance to win the golf tournament,” said Woods, who was at 1-over 145 through 36 holes and seven strokes off the lead. “I got my two rounds in. Just need some food and some caffeine, and I’ll be good to go.”

It was a grueling day for the five-time Masters champion, even more so considering the 48-year-old has endured numerous injuries, countless surgeries and a devastating car wreck that nearly cost him his right leg.

Woods was back at the course before sunrise to finish up the final five holes of his opening round, which was cut short by darkness after storms Thursday morning delayed the start of the tournament by 2 1/2 hours.

He made a couple of bogeys to complete a 73, then had less than an hour to rest up for another 18 holes.

Remarkably, he played just one less hole Friday than his competitive total through the first three months of the year, his patched-up body no longer capable to handling a regular schedule of events.

Even with such limited preparation, there’s something about Augusta National that always brings out the best in Woods.

“Yeah, I’m tired. I’ve been out for a while, competing, grinding. It’s been a long 23 holes, a long day,” he conceded. “But Lance (Bennett, his caddie) and I really did some good fighting today, and we’ve got a chance.”

Stewart Hagestad, an amateur who missed the cut, marveled at Woods’ performance.

“The guy has barely played at all in the last calendar year, and he’s 1 over,” Hagestad said. “That’s alien stuff. That’s unbelievable.”

With the crowd around the 18th green roaring like it was a Sunday, Woods’ steely demeanor morphed into a huge smile as soon as the round was done. He hugged playing partner Jason Day, and gave another big squeeze to Bennett before a triumphant stroll to the clubhouse, the patrons lining the ropes four and five deep to applaud his effort.

“It was awesome,” said Max Homa, who rounded out the threesome with Woods and Day. “I always wanted to just watch him hit iron shots around here, and I was right up next to him. It was really cool. His short game was so good. I don’t think I can explain how good some of the chip shots he hit today were.”

Homa, tied for the lead with Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler at 6-under 138, was glad to cede the spotlight to Woods.

“He’s special,” Homa said. “We had a really quick turnaround, and if I was feeling tired and awful, I imagine he was feeling even worse.”

Homa was impressed as much as anything by the way Woods maintained his cool on the 18th green when the sand went flying with gusts approaching 40 mph for the second day in a row.

“We had sandblasts for 45 seconds, and I turned around five times so I didn’t get crushed in the face, and he’s standing there like a statue and then poured it right in the middle,” Homa said. “All the cliches you hear about him and all the old stories about how he will grind it out, it was fun to see that in person.”

Woods was as accurate as he’s ever been off the tee as a Masters professional, hitting 25 of 28 fairways through the first two rounds. But one wayward approach shot after another left him to do all sorts of scrambling.

Fortunately for Woods, he knew where to miss and kept pulling off nifty chips and clutch putts to keep his score safely above the cut line, which ended up at 6 over.

“I was forced to get up-and-down a few times today, and I was able to do that,” Woods said. “A lot of those chip shots I was able to get up-and-down because I left it in the perfect spot, and that’s understanding how to play this golf course.”

Woods went through a stretch of six straight holes before the turn where he made nothing but birdies or bogeys, but he settled things a bit on the back nine with a single bogey at the 14th — where his approach from 150 yards sailed into the gallery behind the green — and a two-putt birdie at the par-5 15th after clearing the pond with two booming shots.

Woods headed into the weekend facing a daunting deficit, needing a comeback of near-record proportions to win the tournament. Jack Burke Jr. had the biggest 36-hole rally, coming from eight strokes back to win the 1956 Masters.

Even though history is against him, Woods still thinks he has a chance to equal Jack Nicklaus’ record of a half-dozen titles.

“I’m right there,” Woods said. “I don’t think anyone is going to run off and hide right now.”