It's becoming a tradition like no other experienced by Tiger Woods _ a weekend at Quail Hollow without him.
He missed the cut two years ago in the Wells Fargo Championship with the highest 36-hole score of his career, a surprise but not entirely unexpected because it was only his second tournament since his return from the downfall in his personal life. Friday was more stunning, not only because he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on his 17th hole that would have allowed him to make the cut, but it came just more than a month after he won at Bay Hill.
Woods, though, reminded that it was all part of the process.
He didn't use those words _ he has said them enough during his swing changes _ but that's what he meant.
Even as Nick Watney rediscovered his game with a 64 to take a one-shot lead going into the weekend, Woods was explaining that swing changes take time, even if he has a trophy to show for it.
When he revamped his swing under Butch Harmon after a record-setting win at the 1997 Masters, it took nearly two years for him to get it right. He switched to Hank Haney, and it was close to two years before he was out with old and fully understood a new way of playing golf.
"So it takes time to get rid of old patterns," Woods said after a 1-over 73 to miss the cut by one shot. "It takes hundreds of thousands _ if not millions _ of golf balls, but eventually it comes around. I've had my share of successes, and I know it's coming."
It just won't be coming this weekend.
Woods turned the show over to Watney, whose 12-under 132 was a surprise for different reasons. Watney, a two-time winner a year ago who started this season at No. 12 in the world ranking, had failed to record a top 10 in his nine stroke-play events this year. He had not finished among the top 30 when playing against a full field. And he had failed to break 70 in the previous nine rounds before he arrived at Quail Hollow.
Worse yet, he missed the cut for the first time since last July at New Orleans a week ago.
"I think last week was a wake-up call for me," Watney said. "And I've worked really hard these five days leading into this event. I think it just shows I'm making progress. Who knows what's going to happen this weekend, but I'm really excited for it. More hard work, and hopefully I'll be in this position a lot more."
With such low scoring in hot, steamy conditions, it was the first time in the 10-year history of this tournament that the cut was under par. It was reflected in a bunched leaderboard, too, so very little has been settled except that Woods won't be part of the rest of the action.
Webb Simpson, who invited Watney to stay in his home about a mile away this week, was the star in Woods' group as he posted a tidy 68 and was just one shot out of the lead.
Right behind were Stewart Cink (69), Ben Crane (64), D.A. Points (68) and John Senden (68), who looked like he might catch Watney for the lead until he turned a birdie into a bogey on the par-5 seventh late in his round by hitting over the green and under a tree.
Ryan Moore, penalized one shot when his golf ball moved ever so slightly on a 10-inch par putt, had a 70 and was another shot behind. Not to be forgotten is Rory McIlroy, who turned 23 on Friday and ended his round with a birdie on the tough par-4 ninth hole for a 68. He was six shots behind, which was far better than his spot when he won in 2010 after making the cut on the number.
"So being only six back should be easy," McIlroy said with a laugh, knowing it will be anything but that.
The cut became a talking point Friday, and while Woods captured most of the attention, he wasn't alone. Vijay Singh and Joe Ogilvie each made triple bogey on their last holes to miss the cut. Rory Sabbatini finished 6-6 _ triple bogey, double bogey _ to miss the cut.
Phil Mickelson was on the cut line and facing the dangerous 17th and 18th holes. He played them flawlessly for pars for a 72, although he was 11 shots behind. Lee Westwood was outside the cut line until he holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th and finished with a par and a 72.
Woods missing the cut, however, is always news.
It was only the eighth time in 267 events on the PGA Tour when he missed the cut, and it was the first time he had missed the cut twice in one tournament. Woods didn't make it to the weekend last year at Quail Hollow because he didn't play. He was nursing what was described as minor injuries to his left leg that turned out to be a lot more.
That makes three straight years at the Wells Fargo Championship without golf's star attraction. In his previous five trips to Quail Hollow, he won once and never finished worse than 11th.
"This is one of my favorite tour stops, and unfortunately, I'm just not going to be around for the last two days," Woods said.
For the second straight day, Woods was done in by sloppy mistakes _ a pulled tee shot on the 12th, a three-putt on the 13th, a poor chip on the 18th, and a wedge from 105 yards on the par-5 seventh that nearly went into the water. He made an 18-foot par putt to keep alive his hopes of making the cut, but that ended when he missed the 4-foot birdie putt on the next hole.
"I think he's playing pretty well," said Geoff Ogilvy, in the group with Woods and Simpson. "He hit four or five pretty loose shots of the tee, and one into 5. If he'd holed putts, he'd be in contention. He wouldn't be out of the tournament. I think he's actually getting there. I think he's doing a lot of good stuff. If he tells you he's close, I think it's actually right. But he has to putt better."
Next up is The Player Championship, where Woods has finished out of the top 10 more than any other tournament. He has failed to finish the tournament at Sawgrass the last two years, withdrawing on Sunday in 2010 with a neck injury, and after a 42 on the front nine last year with a left Achilles tendon injury.