AUGUSTA, Ga. — What if Tiger Woods broke 70 at the Masters and nobody noticed?
OK, that’s an overstatement, but not by much. When the player currently being compared to the player Woods used to be sets multiple scoring records on Friday and leads the 79th Masters by five shots at the halfway point, everyone else is fighting for table scraps. Woods included.
Sure, there were plenty of his shots shown on the television broadcast, and the obligatory on-camera interview after Woods finished with a two-putt par on No. 18. But his 3-under-par 69 was done rather quietly, a nod to the attention being directed Jordan Spieth’s way.
That might be fine with Woods, who came to Augusta National off a nine-week sabbatical, struggling with his game, and leaving many to speculate whether he’d even make the 36-hole cut. He did, quite easily, and is at 2 under par.
There were lots of questions surrounding the 14-time major champion. He’s beginning to supply some answers.
“Very proud of what I’ve done, to be able to dig it out the way I have,” Woods said. “I told you guys on Tuesday, I was at a pretty low [point] in my career. To put it together and put it in a position where I can compete in a major championship like this is something I’m very proud of.”
Friday’s round was the first time Woods has shot in the 60s at the Masters since a final-round 67 in 2011. It’s the first sub-70 score he’s had in any PGA Tour event since July 31, 2014, when he opened with a 68 at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Woods was the one setting all kinds of scoring records when he won the 1997 Masters as a 21-year-old by 12 shots. With Spieth starting 64-66, Woods finds himself trailing a 21-year-old by 12 shots. In 1997, Woods led by three strokes after 36 holes. Spieth is in front by five.
“I didn’t have that separation after two rounds,” Woods said. “He’s put out a big enough gap between the rest of the pack.”
At least Woods is part of the rest of that pack, and not already back home in Florida after another missed cut or injury withdrawal. He birdied four of his first 11 holes Friday, and dropped only one shot with a bogey at No. 6. His first-round 73 featured four bogeys.
His round couldn’t have started much better: Drive split the fairway, approach to 7 feet, birdie putt made. He added birdies on Nos. 7, 8, and 11, after his drive sailed so far right it actually gave him an opening to the green. He converted the 15-footer.
Woods lined up 14 putts for birdie, three more than his first round. He has hit 10 of 14 fairways in both rounds. He didn’t have any three-putts Friday, but didn’t cash in on as many of the birdie tries as he was hoping. If he had . . .
“I’d be right there,” he said. “And I’m still right there. I’m 12 back, but there’s not a lot of guys ahead of me. And with 36 holes to go, anything can happen; ’96 proved that.”
Ah, yes, the 1996 Masters. Greg Norman took a six-shot lead into the final round, shot a Sunday 78, and lost the green jacket he seemed so destined to finally win. Woods was a 20-year-old amateur that year who shot 75-75 and missed the cut. Twelve months later, he rewrote the record book, the one that Spieth now has in his grasp.Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.