BETHESDA, Md. -- Before Tiger Woods committed last week to playing at Congressional Country Club, many figured that the tournament would look and feel very much like it did last year, when the absence of the world's former No. 1 player offered plenty of elbow room.
It could be that way again this weekend.
The crowds and major-championship buzz that followed the game's biggest draw through the first two rounds likely will disappear now that Woods, looking older than 38 and trying to find his game after being sidelined more than three months after back surgery, has missed the cut.
Coming into Friday's second round at 3-over-par, mostly the result of poor first-round putting, Woods struggled in all facets of his game, shooting a 4-over 75. His two-day total of 7-over-par 149 was 13 shots off the lead and four strokes off the cut line.
Four players -- Australians Marc Leishman and Oliver Goss, a 20-year-old making only his second start as a pro, as well as Americans Ricky Barnes and Patrick Reed -- lead the tournament at 6-under. Another Australian, veteran Stuart Appleby, is one shot back at 5-under, tied with tour rookie Hudson Swafford.
Friday marked only Woods' 10th missed cut in a PGA Tour event in his 18-year career. The only time he missed the cut by more strokes came when he was 9-over-par after two rounds at the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship, in Charlotte, N.C., where he missed by eight shots.
But Woods preferred to look at the positive: He didn't reinjure himself after playing for the first time since having surgery to relieve a nerve impingement.
"I didn't have any setbacks," he said. "I came back four weeks earlier than we thought that I could, and the one thing I was worried about the most was going out there and hitting driver full-out. I haven't hit it in competitive speed. You know, you can hit it at home. That's a totally different speed than tournament golf."
Despite missing the fairway or green off the tee on each of the first three holes, then stubbing a 6-foot birdie putt, Woods left the fourth hole at even par. But he seemed to come unhinged with a double bogey on the par-4 fifth hole after failing to get a buried ball out of a greenside bunker.
Woods then three-putted for par from 50 feet on the first par-5, the sixth hole.
After giving the thousands of fans who lined the fairways some hope that he'd stick around for the weekend by making consecutive birdies on the par-5 ninth and par-3 10th holes, Woods yanked a drive into a ravine on the par-4 11th. That started a stretch of four straight bogeys.
"We had a couple of simple holes, and I just had to get past 11," said Woods, who made one birdie on the back nine. "That's a really tough tee shot and a tough hole, period. If I could get the ball in the fairway there, I figured I probably have a decent shot into a (front) pin. But I lost it right."
Woods said the "little mistakes" he made over Thursday and Friday were correctable before his next event, most likely the British Open at Royal Liverpool, where he won in 2006.
His stats were consistently mediocre this week at Congressional, where he has twice won the tournament he hosts, in 2009 and 2012. He needed 30 putts Friday after 31 Thursday. He hit seven of 14 fairways after hitting nine Thursday. He hit the green in regulation 10 of 18 times both days.
"I felt, a lot of times, it seemed like I was a yard off here and there, and that's what makes the difference between obviously going one way or the other," Woods said.
Playing with Woods, Jason Day of Australia and 20-year-old American phenom Jordan Spieth similarly struggled. The 26-year-old Day, himself coming back from a serious thumb injury that eventually might require surgery, missed the cut by a shot after a second straight 73. Spieth shot a 1-under 70 to finish at 2-over 143, safely ahead of the cut line.
Spieth said it was strange to see Woods, once among the tour's longest hitters, consistently come up shorter off the tee. It was also tough to watch Woods look more mortal than magician around the greens, where his touch was often the difference in his 14 career major wins.
"If it were anybody else, I would say I would expect kind of a struggle," Spieth said. "But you just never know with Tiger. He just got a couple of rounds under his belt. He's going to be a severe threat at the British, probably a favorite, and after playing these couple of rounds, I think he'll take something from it."
Woods said the only thing he planned to take after his first competitive action was a "nice little vacation" with his two children.
"I need to get back into competitive feel, just to feel it," said Woods, whose most recent title came last August. "Hit shots and shake some things off and see how things work. You know, the way I was physically before the surgery, it wasn't very fun to come out and try to play. I tried to play through it, and it wasn't very good."
Neither were his past two days. The next two days for those running the tournament won't be much better, either.
But look on the bright side: There should be plenty of elbow room.
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