Nick Watney and a resurgent Sergio Garcia shared the lead in The Barclays after Friday’s second round, while Tiger Woods played through back pain to stay within range.
Garcia, who won last week for his first PGA Tour win in four years, had a 68. Watney had a 69, giving him a share of the 36-hole lead and a chance to salvage a dismal year. They were at 8-under 134.
Woods felt a twinge in his lower back when he awoke and felt pain throughout the second round at Bethpage Black. He had a 69 and was three shots out of the lead going into the weekend, where about two dozen players were separated by only five shots.
“Must have slept funny on it,” Woods said. “Soft beds at the hotel, and woke up this morning with it stiff. As I warmed up, it got progressively worse and then you saw what happened on the golf course. It hurt all day.”
Garcia made bogey on the third hole with what he called his worst swing of the week and atoned for that with a tee shot on the par-5 fourth that restored his momentum and sent him to a 68.
Watney, whose season has been so dismal that he is not even in the Ryder Cup conversation as a potential pick, went eagle-birdie on the par-5s on the front nine and then survived a roller coaster of birdies and bogeys on the back nine.
Vijay Singh, who last won a PGA Tour event in 2008 when he captured the opening two playoff events and sailed to the FedEx Cup title, played bogey-free for a 67 and was one shot out of the lead, along with Bob Estes, who had a 66. John Senden (68) and Pat Perez (70) were another stroke back at 6-under 136.
Rory McIlroy noticed Woods wincing on the opening tee shot. About an hour later, McIlroy felt his own pain with sloppy mistakes during a four-hole stretch, three of them bogeys, that left him outside the cut line. However, not for long. The PGA champion bounced back with an 18-foot birdie putt on the ninth, added two more birdies and had a 73.
The cut was at 1-over 143, ending the FedEx Cup playoffs for the likes of Robert Allenby, Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and Heath Slocum, who narrowly got into the 125-man field at the start of the playoffs.
Garcia did not look as though he would be around the PGA Tour’s version of a postseason until winning last week in North Carolina.
“Golf is a funny game,” Garcia said. “When you think that you have it under control, it kicks you down. And then all of a sudden, it gives you something to live it again. If I’m not hitting the shots, then it doesn’t help.”
He hit plenty of good ones at Bethpage, including a chip-in for birdie from behind the green at No. 2, the drive that pleased him so much on No. 4, and an 8-iron from 171 yards on the tough fifth hole to about 8 feet for birdie.
Garcia announced after the round that he would not play in the Deutsche Bank Championship next week at the TPC Boston, saying he wanted to stay fresh for the Ryder Cup.
Watney has not given himself many chances this year, but if his game is not coming around, at least his attitude is.
“If a football team is struggling, they win one game, it’s not really a success,” Watney said. “But in golf if you’re struggling, you win one tournament, all of a sudden ... I don’t know how Sergio was playing, but he wins last week and he’s right up there again this week. He’s climbing the rankings and all that stuff. Golf is funny in that way. Just a couple little things here and there, and all of a sudden you’re playing great.”