Woods avoids premature exit

Executive Editor

   AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Forget about an unprecedented third straight Masters championship. Tiger Woods was flirting with the unthinkable -- not making the cut -- during the second round of the tournament Saturday morning at Augusta National Golf Course.
   By sinking a three-foot putt at the end of the round, Woods guaranteed himself a place in the field for the final two rounds.
   "That putt was either going in or going off the green," Woods said.
   "No doubt about it," he added, rolling his eyes.
   With a 1-over-par 73, Woods finished the second round 11 shots behind leader Mike Weir. No player has ever rallied from more than eight strokes in the final 36 holes to win the event.
   As for the left-handed Weir, he fired a second-round 68 for a two-round total of 138, and a four-stroke lead entering third-round play on Saturday afternoon.
   At 6-under, Weir was one of just four players to be above par at the halfway point.
   Weir, whose game isn't exactly suited to Augusta, which usually favors big hitters, is a bit of a surprise leader.
   However, the Canadian's ability to make key putts keep him four shots in front of Darren Clarke and five shots ahead of Phil Mickelson and Ricky Barnes.
   "I have always felt like the next step for me is to try to contend in major championships," said Weir. "So far I'm doing it. We'll see if I can do it all week."
   Woods showed signs of weakness early in the second round. In solid shape for birdie on the second hole, he fell 20 feet short on a 67-yard pitch to 20 feet, then settled for par.
   "I've got a name on my bag. I should be able to get it closer than that," he said.
   Woods, though, had not given up hope at the end of the round.
   "You never know," he said. "If I can get to even par at the end of the day, things are looking all right."
   With heavy rain wiping out opening-round action on Thursday, the Masters' 93 players attempted to squeeze in both the first and second rounds on Friday.
   However, only 18 players managed to play all 36 holes on Friday, forcing the rest of the field to finish the second round Saturday morning.