Augusta, Ga. The only survivors to par through two days at the Masters are hardly the players anyone expected to see.
Equally mysterious is Augusta National.
Not since 1999 has the course been this fast and frightening,
and that was before an extra quarter-mile of length. And while it's not unusual to have a Masters rookie like Brett Wetterich or a scrappy, short hitter like Tim Clark atop the leaderboard going into the weekend, rarely has this tournament been so wide-open.
"We're all going to have to grind," Tiger Woods said. "Birdies are very hard to come by right now."
Sometimes, even making par is no bargain.
Wetterich three-putted for bogey twice over the final four holes for a 1-over 73, the first rookie in the lead at the halfway point in six years. Clark overcame a double bogey at No. 5 by holing a par putt from the fringe on the 18th for a 1-under 71.
They were at 2-under 142, the highest 36-hole score to lead the Masters in 25 years.
Another shot back was Vaughn Taylor, who grew up in Augusta and was poised to join the leaders until missing a 5-foot par putt on the final hole, giving him a 72.
So much for that "Tiger & Phil" show at Augusta National. Woods and defending champion Phil Mickelson, who have won five of the last six Masters, had to scramble just to stay in the race in this one.
And forget that notion that only a dozen or so players are capable of winning. Heading into the weekend, the green jacket was up for grabs, with two-thirds of the field making the cut and almost half of them within seven shots of the lead.
"When you get a week like this ... you're going to get some weird rounds," Fred Couples said after his second straight 76, which allowed him to tie a record with his 23rd consecutive cut, this one on the number. "The good guys are always going to be lingering."
Woods only dropped one shot from his two water balls on the 12th and 13th, made birdie from well behind the 15th green and somehow escaped with a 74, leaving him at 3-over 147 and among 22 players within five shots of the lead.
"Yesterday, I threw away a good round," Woods said. "And today I salvaged a bad one. So I kept myself right there in the ball game."
Another shot behind was Mickelson, who worried about missing the cut when he was lost in the forest left of the 11th fairway. He managed to limit the damage to a bogey, played mistake-free over the final four holes for the second straight day and shot 73.
"I think anybody who made the cut actually has a realistic chance," Mickelson said. "With the wind blowing the next two days like it's supposed to, I think over par is going to win. If you made the cut and shoot in the 60s, you're right back in it."
Sixty players made the cut at 8-over 152, the most to advance to the weekend since 61 in 1993. But there isn't a ton of experience at the top.
Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters champion, shot a 71 and was in the group at even-par 144 that included Jerry Kelly (69), Zach Johnson (73) and Justin Rose (75). Johnson was poised to take the lead when he stood over a 4-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th. He three-putted for bogey, then dropped shots on the last two holes.
The group at 145 included U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy (70) and Padraig Harrington, whose 68 was as low a round as Augusta National has allowed for two days. Paul Casey also shot 68 while paired with Woods.
"Nobody is safe right now," Casey said. "Anybody can win this."
Woods sure didn't look like a worthy candidate, finding bunkers on his first two tee shots and missing the ninth fairway so badly that his only option was to invert a wedge and chip out as a southpaw. And that wasn't even the worst of it.
He had to play out of the trees on No. 11 for a bogey. The swirling wind turned against him on the par-3 12th and deposited his shot onto the bank and into Rae's Creek, where he scrambled for a bogey with a 20-foot putt. And his second shot to the par-5 13th hung out to the right and splashed twice before settling at the bottom of the stream. He got up-and-down there for a par.
Woods played the final five holes in 2 under, and while it was only the second time he has started the Masters with two rounds over par, he wasn't the least bit surprised to be within range of the leaders.
"They're not going anywhere," Woods said. "Not in these conditions."
The last time a 36-hole score this high led the Masters was in 1982, when Curtis Strange and Craig Stadler were at even-par 144.
Stadler, 53, was among four seniors to make the cut, joining the large group at 3-over 147 that featured Woods, Casey, Mark Calcavecchia, former Masters champion Mike Weir and Dean Wilson, the first player from Hawaii to make the cut. Weir and Wilson, roommates at BYU, will be paired together today.
For a while there, Mickelson wasn't sure if he would be around to join them.
He felt great on the putting green. He felt great teeing off. He felt as though this was going to be a great day.
And he was 3 over for the round through six holes.
Then came trouble on the 11th, when he hit his tee shot into the trees - to the left, the side of the fairway Mickelson is so desperate to eliminate - and his next shot clipped more trees and left him unable to see the green. After finding his ball near television cables, he was given free relief and pitched out 100 yards short of the green. He hit wedge to 6 feet and took bogey.
The only scare after that was a shot into the front bunker on the 12th. Lefty took care of the par 5s with birdies and, as wild as he has been over two days, remains only seven shots behind.
The leaders' chances largely depend on how they handle the weekend pressure.
Clark has finished in the top three at the 2006 Masters, 2005 U.S. Open and 2003 PGA Championship, although he never had a serious chance at winning any of them. He remembers seeing his name atop the leaderboard in the third round last year, and then he stumbled.
"You have to - no matter what happens out there - just know that you can still get yourself back into the tournament," Clark said. "And it's never really over."
Wetterich is playing his first Masters, but he already seems to have figured it out.
"I wanted to make a lot of pars," he said. "I was just going out there to make as many as I could, and I did pretty good for 14 holes."
His wedge to the par-5 15th came up 30 feet short, and he ran his birdie attempt some 7 feet by the hole. Bogey. On the 16th, with the hole location in a precarious spot atop a shelf in the front right portion of the green, he ran his 45-foot putt up the ridge and all the way off the green. Bogey. The biggest putt of the day came on the 17th, when he rammed another 30-foot putt about 6 feet by, but made that for par.
"That stopped the bleeding," he said.