Tiger Woods is in contention to win a first major since 2008 despite almost being injured in a bizarre incident on a rain-hit second day at the Masters.
The four-time champion hit a four-under 68 to finish six under, one shot behind five halfway leaders – all of them major winners – including Open champion Francesco Molinari and US Open and US PGA winner Brooks Koepka.
However, Woods was almost knocked over by a security guard who slipped on the damp grass and clipped his right ankle, causing the 43-year-old to hop forward to avoid a fall.
Ian Poulter is the leading Englishman on five under, while Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy shot a 71 that leaves him level par but world number one Justin Rose bogeyed the last to miss the cut on four over.
It is an exceptionally tight leaderboard though, with 22 players within four shots of the lead.
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What happened to Woods?
The world number 12 had miscued his drive into the trees down the right of the 14th hole and after hitting his shot towards the green, a few enthusiastic patrons raced forward to see where it had gone.
The mild panic caused a security guard to rush in to protect Woods but he lost his footing on the wet surface and slid straight into the back of the 14-time major champion’s right heel. A startled Woods hopped forward a few paces but there appeared to be no serious damage done.
In fact, Woods knocked in the birdie putt and then holed a 25-footer on the par-five 15th to get to six under.
The roars that greeted them were reminiscent of Woods at his prime, echoing up from the bottom end of the course.
The thousands that had followed him round every inch of the Augusta National clamoured for birdies on 17 and 18. Both putts missed by centimetres but Woods, who has overcome four operations on his back in recent years, was all smiles as he walked off to sign his card.
“Accidents happen, we move on,” he said. “Other than having four knee surgeries and four back surgeries I’m great.
“It’s all good. I’ve had galleries run over me before. When you play in front of a lot of people things happen.”
The security guard told golf.com: “Well, he made birdie so I guess it all worked out. Man, I’m really glad he made birdie.”
Woods, who last won at Augusta in 2005, showed a return to form last year, briefly leading The Open during the final round before pushing champion Koepka close at the US PGA Championship, and is again in position to add to his tally of major titles.
McIlroy happy to make cut after eventful round
Starting the day seven off the pace, the last thing McIlroy needed was an early bogey, but that’s what he got at the par-five second after chunking his third into a greenside bunker.
It was a frustrating start to what would go on to be a frustrating round for the world number three.
A birdie at the sixth and an eagle three at the long eighth moved the 29-year-old to one under for the tournament.
But his progress was halted on the 11th, which gave up just one birdie all day. McIlroy took two to get out of the greenside bunker and walked off with a bogey and another shot went at the 13th after he hit his ball into the creek protecting the green.
More trouble followed for the four-time major champion on 15 after pushing his drive right and landing it in a golf buggy. He eventually walked off with a par before holing a lengthy birdie putt on the 16th to get back to level par.
“I was staring bogey in the face at 15 and thinking I have to play the last three at even par just to make the cut,” said McIlroy. “To be here on the weekend and only be seven back, I’m actually pretty pleased.”
Rose frustrated but Poulter has ‘3% chance’
World number one Rose, who started quickly with birdies on his first two holes, added two more birdies on the second nine.
However, four bogeys on his card meant he was right on the cut mark at three over playing the 18th and the 38-year-old, who has twice finished runner-up in the past three years, bogeyed the last.
It is the first time in his 14 Masters appearances that Rose has missed the cut and he is the first world number one to do so since Martin Kaymer in 2011.
“I’ve been playing terribly this week, but there’s always pride in trying to make it,” said Rose.
After finding a fairway bunker with his opening tee shot and bogeying the first, Poulter birdied the par-five second and then went on a run of nine pars before successive birdies on the 12th and 13th briefly put him in a share of the lead on six under.
However, a “disappointing three-putt” led to a bogey on the 14th and he finished with five pars.
“I’m just trying to be smart and not take myself out of the tournament, like I’ve done in the past,” he said. “I’ve got a 3% chance. It was a stat shown on television that 43-year-olds have got a 3% chance of winning this week.”
Five major winners share lead
Italian Molinari, 36, had five birdies in a bogey-free 67 early on and was joined by American Koepka, South African Louis Oosthuizen and Australians Jason Day and Adam Scott.
Molinari is enjoying something of a purple patch in his career, with four wins in the past year, including becoming the first Italian to win a major with his victory at Carnoustie in July.
But history is against Molinari: Only four players have won the Masters while Open champion – Arnold Palmer (1962), Seve Ballesteros (1980), Tom Watson (1981) and Tiger Woods (2001) – while his best performance at Augusta is a tie for 19th in 2012.
Day, whose best Masters finish is second in 2011, was treated on the course by a physiotherapist for a bad back during Thursday’s opening round.
The healing hands helped the former US PGA champion post a two-under 70 and he followed it on Friday with six birdies and just one bogey.
His fellow Australian Scott briefly led on eight under after an eagle on the par-five 15th but the 2013 champion three-putted the short 16th and eventually signed for a 68.
Joint overnight leader Koepka had three birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey on an eventful first nine.
A wayward tee shot on the par-five second into trees, followed by a second that clattered another tree and resulted in a penalty drop, led to a seven.
However, a more solid second nine, with birdies on the 15th and 18th holes, moved the three-time major champion back into a share of the lead.
They were joined late on by former Open champion Oosthuizen who had just one bogey as he posted a six-under 66.
Johnson and Mickelson well poised
A pushed drive and poor chip cost world number two Dustin Johnson a bogey on the first but eight pars followed before birdies on 10, 13 and 15 moved him up the leaderboard.
He was joined by Woods and their fellow American Xander Schauffele, who had eight birdies in a seven-under 65 – the lowest round of the day.
And unheralded South African Justin Harding, who had five birdies on the second nine, posted a second successive 69 to also sit one off the lead.
Spain’s Jon Rahm put together a solid bogey-free two-under 70 and is just two off the lead on five under.
Phil Mickelson said playing his 100th competitive round at the Masters just meant he was “getting old”.
“This is a spiritual place if you love golf the way we do,” said the 48-year-old, who played his first round in 1991.
The three-time champion started round two one off the pace on five under and ended it on four under.
Joint overnight leader Bryson DeChambeau said “weird stuff started to happen with my wedges around the greens in wetter conditions” after he slipped back to three under with a three-over 75.
European Ryder Cup hero Tommy Fleetwood carded his second one-under-par 71 to sit tied for 23rd heading into the weekend, five shots behind the leaders.
Fellow American Justin Thomas was another to hit a bogey-free round as a 68 lifted him to level with DeChambeau and Jordan Spieth also posted 68 to improve to one under.
Missing the cut
Danny Willett, champion in 2016, and 2017 winner Sergio Garcia will both miss the weekend after bogeys at the last saw them finish on four over.
And the par-three curse struck again with England’s Matt Wallace, who won Wednesday’s traditional curtain-raiser, adding a 77 to his opening 75 to bow out on eight over. No player who has won the par-three contest has won the Masters in the same year.