'Combo platter' swing hurting Tiger

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Nike golf ball with the TW logo on it went mysteriously missing, never to be found. And in a development you could say is related, Tiger Woods continues to search for his golf game.

The lost ball that turned into a free drop Friday at Quail Hollow was just an odd sideshow for Woods, who wasn't able to use his good fortune there to his benefit. Had he made the cut on the number -- he missed by one stroke -- that ruling would be getting plenty of scrutiny, although officials and those playing with Woods signed off on it.

No matter. Woods missed the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship by a stroke, the second straight time he's done so in this event and just the eighth as a pro on the PGA Tour.

From a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 25 to his worst finish at the Masters as a pro last month and now this.

"I've missed my share of cuts in the past and they don't feel good,'' Woods said before heading home to Florida.

Actually ... he really hasn't missed his share. Keegan Bradley, the reigning PGA champion and rookie of the year, missed 10 cuts last year alone. Phil Mickelson, who has 40 PGA Tour victories, second-most among active players, has missed 63. No. 1 Luke Donald? He's missed eight -- in the past three years.

Missed cuts are part of golf. They just haven't been for Woods, whose game seemed to be trending in a positive direction all year until Augusta National saw him kicking a club and cursing himself repeatedly. Some of the old swing thoughts and patterns crept in, he said, and eradicating them proved futile.

Some time away, work with swing coach Sean Foley, a poor posture diagnosis and all figured to be well at Quail Hollow, a venue where Woods won in 2007 and has generally played well.

But it is clear that favorable golf courses no longer bring out the best in Woods. That magic didn't work for him last month at Augusta, where he has won four times; or the past two years at Firestone, where he has seven victories; or two years ago at St. Andrews, where he won two Claret Jugs. Or at Pebble Beach, for that matter, where he won a tour event and the U.S. Open in the same year.

Woods again cited issues with getting caught between his old swing and his new swing.

"Obviously, we've changed a bunch of different things, and now and again I fall into the same stuff, old stuff,'' Woods said. "That doesn't work with a combo platter of old and new.''

Who knows how much of that is the case? Foley said on Thursday that Woods had posture issues, that in trying to get comfortable, he reverts to old patterns. Perhaps that is it.

Or maybe Woods is enjoying a few digs at former coach Hank Haney, who has written a controversial book about their time together that clearly has Woods miffed.

Then again, Woods points out that all of his swing changes -- three notable ones -- have taken time.

"If you think about it, with Butch [Harmon] it took me two years and with Hank it took me almost two years before old patterns are out,'' he said. "I played really well at the '97 Masters and I didn't really do anything until May of '99. So it takes time to get rid of old patterns. 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.''

Isn't that what we thought at Bay Hill? Woods drove the ball nicely, hit a ton of greens, putted well -- and won by five. Going back to November, he had been in contention a bunch, with a third-place finish at the Australian Open, a win at his unofficial Chevron World Challenge, a tie for third in Abu Dhabi, a second -- including a final-round 62 -- at the Honda Classic.

Then after withdrawing at Doral with the Achilles injury issue, there was Woods two weeks later winning at Bay Hill and being talked about to win a fifth green jacket. Instead, he's on a stretch of eight straight rounds having not broken 70.

"I think he hit the ball pretty good,'' said Geoff Ogilvy, who played with Woods during the first two rounds. "I know that sounds ridiculous ... he hit a lot of really good drivers. He hit an unbelievable driver on 10, the first hole of the day. Just unbelievable. I think he's got a lot of good stuff. If he tells you he's close, I think he's actually right, but he has to putt better. He hit some classy chips, too.

"If he putted just OK, he would have been 5-, 6-under and got around nicely. And if you hole putts, you can get away with loose shots.''

Woods certainly was mediocre on the greens. He took 33 putts on Friday, and missed a 4-footer for birdie on his 17th hole that would have, as it turns out, helped him make the cut. He also 3-putted twice on his first nine holes.

Once again, everything with Woods is magnified, scrutinized, analyzed. Could it be that Woods is simply more like the rest of his peers than any of us is used to seeing?

This is routine stuff, really. Woods shot 71-73, not exactly a travesty. He caught Quail Hollow when it yielded its lowest 36-hole cut in its 10-year history.

He didn't take advantage of the par-5s, didn't make enough birdies when everyone else was going low, and paid the price. Whether he made the cut or not, he was 12 strokes behind 36-hole leader Nick Watney.

"Got no momentum going during the round,'' Woods said.

And so now it's on to the Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass, where he won in 2001 but has typically fared poorly.

That is another tournament for which Woods has never missed a cut, although he's withdrawn due to injury each of the past two years. But as we've witnessed, past history means little, good or bad.

Tiger is simply like a lot of tour players these days, unsure what he's got.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.