Local residents Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson shared the lead with Kevin Na after Friday’s second round of The Players Championship, while Tiger Woods played himself into contention.
Johnson made five birdies on the back nine until a bogey on the 18th hole, though he matched the best score of the second round with a 66 to share the lead at 8-under 136.
Kuchar, who made a strong run at the Masters last month, played bogey-free over his last 13 holes for a 68. Na started the back nine with three straight birdies for a 69.
”It’s fun to be back in position with a chance to win again,” Kuchar said.
They had a one-shot lead over Harris English, a PGA Tour rookie who is also semi-local, living 160 kilometers (100 miles) north.
Woods used a burst of birdies to go from a guy struggling to make the cut to being on the periphery of contention, six strokes off the lead. Woods missed the cut last week at Quail Hollow and has never missed consecutive cuts in his career. He said the thought never crossed his mind.
”I was trying to shoot my number today,” Woods said after a 4-under 68, ending a streak of nine straight rounds without shooting in the 60s. ”Sixty-six was my number today. I figured that would have been a good way to go into the weekend, being probably four or five back. But I’m still with a good chance.”
English birdied the 17th and 18th for a 67, while the group at 6-under 138 included past champion Adam Scott (70).
Rory McIlroy will have the weekend to himself. The US Open champion, who only last week lost in a three-way playoff at Quail Hollow, opened with a birdie and didn’t make another one the rest of the day. He shot 76 and missed the cut for the first time in more than a year, though it wasn’t unusual at the TPC Sawgrass. In three appearances at The Players Championship, McIlroy has never broken par or made the cut.
”Hopefully, I’m coming back here for another 20 years,” McIlroy said. ”If I don’t figure it out on my 20th, there’s something wrong.”
The cut was at even-par 144, and Woods was two shots over the cut line when he hit his best shot of the week, a 5-wood into a stiff breeze on the par-3 eighth that caught a slope on the edge of the green and rolled 8 feet from the flag. That was the first of four straight birdies.
Going into the weekend, nothing is settled. Even though Woods was only six shots behind, there were 29 players ahead of him.
One of them is Martin Laird, the only player to reach double digits under par for the week. He was at 10 under with three holes to play when he lost four shots on the last three holes. His hopes for eagle turned into bogey with a 4-iron into the water on the 16th, and he dunked one on No. 17 for double bogey.
The good news?
”I’m glad it happened on a Friday, and not on Sunday,” Laird said after a 73 put him in a large group two shots behind.
Ben Curtis and FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas were in the group at 5-under 139, while the group at 3-under 141 included Quail Hollow playoff winner Rickie Fowler and Luke Donald, who at least has a chance to go back to No. 1 in the world now that McIlroy has missed the cut. Lee Westwood also was at 141.
Phil Mickelson, inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday, again didn’t get much out of his round. A winner five years ago at Sawgrass, he had another 71 and still was in the picture going into the weekend at 142, tied with Woods.
Another surprise below the cut line was Steve Stricker, who had the longest cut streak on the PGA Tour — 49 events dating to the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. He played with Mickelson and McIlroy and fell apart with a bogey on the third, and a double bogey from a back bunker on the fourth.