AUGUSTA, Ga. » Rory McIlroy took off his cap, rubbed his brow and let out a deep sigh.
After rolling in a testy 4-foot putt at the 18th hole, he was one of the fortunate ones Friday.
He gets to keep playing on the weekend at Augusta National.
Not so for Phil Mickelson, who missed the Masters cut for the first time since 1997 after making a mess of three holes. Lefty took triple-bogey on two of them, a double-bogey on another, and wound up with one stroke too many.
"I didn’t play great. I didn’t play bad," Mickelson said. "I keep making these triples. They’re tough to overcome."
He wasn’t the only big name headed home.
The last major champion, PGA winner Jason Dufner, missed the cut by six shots.
Former Masters champions Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman and Charl Schwartzel were on the wrong side of the line, too.
Ditto for Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson and Luke Donald.
"Just made some silly errors here and there," said Els, whose 2-over 74 left him with a 5-over 149, which like Mickelson was one shot more than he could afford. "I’m actually driving it well, doing a lot of things well, but just getting in my own way here and there."
Mickelson dug himself a big hole with a 76 on Thursday, marred by a triple-bogey 7 at the seventh and a double-bogey 7 at the 15th. In the second round, his undoing was the par-3 12th, where Lefty deposited his tee shot in the front bunker, whacked the next over the cup into a back bunker, then put his third shot back in the front bunker. He finally got it on the green and two-putted for a 6.
Mickelson had six birdies and played 33 of the 36 holes at 3 under. Those other three holes did him in, and a 73 Friday not quite good enough.
"I’ve actually played reasonably well for a majority of the holes," he said. "Then the ones I let slide I end up making a big number. So it’s tough to overcome those big numbers."
Garcia, Donald and Schwartzel were also at 149. Zach Johnson totaled 150, one stroke better than Dustin Johnson. Cabrera, who nearly won his second green jacket a year ago but lost to Adam Scott in a playoff, struggled to a 152 this time. Bradley, the PGA winner at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2011, and Immelman never really had a chance on the way to 153s.
McIlroy came oh-so-close to missing out on the final two rounds. Some of it was his own fault, like at the par-3 fourth, where he not only drove it over the green but also the tee box for the fifth hole, winding up in the woods 30 yards beyond his intended target. He found the ball but had to go back to the tee for a do-over, winding up with a double bogey.
McIlroy’s caught a bad break at the 13th, where a slightly errant approach shot hit a sprinkler head and sent the ball careening into the azaleas — a hole, appropriately enough, known as "Azalea." He punched it out of the flowers and took a bogey.
With no more room for error, the former world No. 1 and two-time major champion parred the last five holes. The last one was especially challenging, as McIlroy faced a 35-footer against a treacherous ridge, needing to get down in two. He putted far left, toward the Butler Cabin, and watched the ball curl sharply toward the cup. His work still wasn’t done, but he knocked in the next one for an ugly 77 — just good enough for a 148 total.
McIlroy was among those benefiting from a change in the Augusta rules. The top 50 (and ties) made the cut this time, compared to the top 44 a year ago.
He’ll take it.
"When I got into the scoring area and saw that I was in 46th place," McIlroy said, "it was a big sigh of relief that I’m here for the weekend."