REUTERS - A frustrated Tiger Woods missed a cut for only the eighth time in a PGA Tour event while Nick Watney stormed into a one-shot lead in Friday's second round of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Former world number one Woods battled to a one-over-par 73 at Quail Hollow Club, struggling with his putter, failing to birdie any of the four par-five holes and finishing one stroke outside the cutline.
The greatest player of his generation and arguably the best of all time, Woods has now missed four cuts in his last 36 PGA Tour appearances after missed the same number in his previous 231 starts.
"The entire week I didn't play the par-fives well," Woods told reporters after parring his last nine holes for an even-par total of 144, a distant 12 strokes behind fellow American Watney who fired an eight-under 64.
"You just can't do that, especially when all of them are reachable with irons. I didn't take care of the par-fives, missed a couple of other little short ones for birdie and consequently got no momentum during the round."
Asked to explain why he had struggled, Woods replied: "It all has to do with my setup. If I get over the golf ball and I feel uncomfortable, I hit it great.
"It's just that I get out there and I want to get comfortable, and I follow my old stuff, and I hit it awful."
The 14-times major champion, playing his first PGA Tour event since tying for 40th last month's Masters, then reiterated what has become a mantra for him as he strives to regain the form that once saw him dominate the game.
"I know what I need to do, it's just I need more (repetitions) doing it," said Woods, who has been grooving a new swing with coach Sean Foley over the last two years.
"Obviously we've changed a bunch of different things, and every now and again I fall into the same stuff, old stuff. It takes time to get rid of old patterns."
While Woods struggled on the challenging Quail Hollow layout, four-times PGA Tour champion Watney surged to the top of the leaderboard with a superb 64 that included seven birdies, an eagle at the par-five 15th and a lone bogey.
"I played great, I hit the ball probably the best I have all year," Watney said after posting a 12-under total of 132 to finish one ahead of compatriot Webb Simpson (68).
"This was just really, really good ball striking. I hit a bunch of shots close. I putted well, and I'm very, very pleased. But we're only halfway done, so I'm really looking forward to the weekend."
Former British Open champion Stewart Cink carded a 69 to sit two strokes off the pace at 10-under with fellow Americans Ben Crane (64), DA Points (68) and Australian John Senden (68).
U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who blew away a top-quality field by four shots at the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship, improved on his opening 70 with a 68 for a six-under total.
"I haven't felt like I've had anything near my best the last couple days, but I've been able to get it around," the Northern Irish world number two said after mixing five birdies with one bogey on his 23rd birthday.
"To be six-under through two rounds is pretty good, considering the way I've hit the ball."
British world number three Lee Westwood and 10th-ranked American Phil Mickelson flirted with the cutline as the wind picked up in the afternoon before carding matching 72s to qualify for the weekend right on the number.
The cut fell at one-under with former major winners Angel Cabrera, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, holder Lucas Glover and last year's PGA champion Keegan Bradley among those failing to advance.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue/Ian Ransom)
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