Reporting from Augusta, Ga.
For a while there, the Young Guns were threatening to turn the Masters into their own little campus intramural.
Then the establishment had to come along and cast its shadow. A large shadow.
Hello, Mr. Woods.
Ten shots off McIlroy's pace at one point, Tiger Woods showed flashes of his 14-major former self with seven birdies over his final 11 holes — finishing with a six-under-par 66 that left him just three shots off the lead.
"I played myself back into the championship," Woods said after a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole brought him to the midway point at seven-under 137.
"Any time you shoot 66 in a major, it's always going to be good. I'm very pleased about that — very pleased."
It was Woods' best round at Augusta National since 2005, when he won the most recent of his four green jackets in an eventual playoff against Chris DiMarco. And it fell right in line with two of his other victories, when he also fired 66s to put himself at the forefront.
The round also matched Woods' best this year — a 66 in the final round at Doral. But that came from well back in the pack, not the second round of a major.
"It was nice to get it going," Woods said, "and it was nice to put myself only three back."
Said McIlroy: "It will be great for the tournament if he's up there. But I'm two shots ahead [of anyone else] and in a better position."
McIlroy's second-round 69 left him at 10-under 134, the lowest through 36 holes at Augusta National since DiMarco did the same in 2005. Day was two shots back after his 64, matching the lowest second round in Masters annals and one off the record that has been achieved two dozen times in majors.
"We've got a long way to go," Woods said. "It's going to be fun."
Not only has Woods gone winless in the last 17 months since a sex scandal led to divorce and sidetracked his career, he has rarely been in weekend contention.
He challenged last year at Augusta in his first event after the scandal, before finishing tied for fourth. A third-round 66 at the U.S. Open put him in the Sunday mix, but he closed with a 75. It wasn't much different when he entered the final round in Dubai one shot off the lead. He took a four-shot lead into the final round of his own Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in December, then lost a playoff to Graeme McDowell.
For 11 holes Friday, though, Augusta National saw vintage Woods. Three straight birdies at Nos. 8-10 moved him up the board, and even his curling par save at No.11 was stirring. When he strung three more birdies together at Nos. 13-15, the spotlight was squarely on.
"You have to stay patient," Woods said. "I said to myself, 'Let's make the turn at even-par for the day, then shoot two under on the back nine and I'll be right there.' I shot a little better than that."
It sets up for an intriguing weekend, even as the Young Guns tried to play it down.
"You have to play the course; you're not playing the leaderboard," Day said.
As other generations can attest, easier said than done.