PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — David Toms has played through wrist surgeries, heart surgery and Hurricane Katrina. He grew up in an era when golf's leading Watson was Tom, not Bubba.
A day after 54-year-old Mark O'Meara caused a stir, Toms, 44, who has 12 victories but none since the 2006 Sony Open, shot a second-round 68 to get to 10 under par Friday and take the lead halfway through a steamy Players Championship at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
"Winning a golf tournament, whether it's the Players Championship or any other tournament, it's not going to change my life in any way," Toms said. "So it's all about enjoying the game, enjoying the competition, and if you get the results that's a bonus as well."
Toms made six birdies and two bogeys and leads first-round leader Nick Watney (71) by a stroke. Four players were two back at 8 under: last week's winner Lucas Glover (71), Graeme McDowell (69), third-ranked Luke Donald (67) and 44-year-old Steve Stricker (67). Two-time Players winner Davis Love III, who at 47 has been appointed to think more about leading the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team than his own game, shot 69 and led a quartet of players at 7 under, three back.
Hunter Mahan (67), Aaron Baddeley (67) and J.B. Holmes (69) joined Love at 7 under, three behind Toms.
Fred Funk was the oldest winner of the Players when he won at age 48 in 2005.
Toms admits he is playing well in part because his 13-year-old son, Carter, has suddenly fallen for golf and is relentless in dragging the old man out to play. To get a sense of how long Toms has been at it, consider that his first Players was in 1992 (he missed the cut), when Tom Watson tied for second place with Ian Baker-Finch, Phil Blackmar and Nick Faldo.
When Toms looked at Thursday-Friday pairings earlier this week he found he'd been put with Jason Day, 23, and Anthony Kim, 25, but the Stadium Course is the great equalizer, rewarding precision in any form. Toms gave the kids a thumping, beating Day by five, and Kim by 16 strokes. "Conversations are always a little bit different playing with a couple of guys like that than guys my own age," said Toms, who is healthy again after battling a variety of ailments, including a rapid heart beat in 2005. "You go from talking about kids and stuff going on at home to talking about if they'd want to have any [kids] or whatever. It's pretty funny."
A native Louisianan who still lives in Shreveport, Toms raised more than $1.5 million through his foundation for those displaced by Katrina. He is a decade removed from his prime, when he won the 2001 PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club, but his additional recent playing time has yielded uncanny accuracy — a valued commodity at Sawgrass. He hit 12 of 14 fairways Friday for the second day in a row, and after coming into this week third in driving accuracy in 2011, he leads the field in that department at the Players.
"You know, I watched [Day and Kim] hit 3-woods probably 70 percent of the time around the golf course," Toms said. "I was aggressive and hit driver and I could get it into the right spot; I was right there with them, so I wasn't way behind the guys all two days. This golf course kind of evens everybody out, the way you have to play it."
Phil Mickelson would like to have had Toms as his designated driver. The 2007 champion here, Mickelson threw a charge into the tournament by shooting a 5-under 31 on his first nine Friday morning, getting to 6-under overall. But Mickelson could find just two of seven fairways on his second nine, carding a 40 to plummet off the board.
"I thought I could go shoot a few under on the front and really have it be a good day," Mickelson said. "And I just really let a good round go. It's disappointing."
Mickelson's only consolation may have been that he is not Tiger Woods, who withdrew with pain in his oft-injured left leg after shooting a front-nine 42 Thursday. Defending champion Tim Clark (elbow) and Geoff Ogilvy (shoulder) withdrew Friday. World No. 1 Lee Westwood opted not to play this week, and Rory McIlroy, who shares the same agent, followed suit.
There were precious few roars Friday, and some of them were for the fan who hung himself over the edge of a railroad-tie retaining wall to fish for Michael Bradley's wayward driver, which had flown out of his hands and into a water hazard on the seventh hole.
Bradley shot 74 to miss the cut by a shot.
Watney was subdued after the round, despite being just one back.
"I'm not exactly happy," he said after his three-birdie, two-bogey round. "I felt like I let quite a few get away out there, but I guess that's just the game and I'll try to work on it. Maybe I'm saving it for the weekend."
Donald, just two off the lead, would take over the No. 1 ranking with a victory. McDowell, also at 8 under, is coming off a week of cramming with his coach, Pete Cowan. The U.S. Open champion is trying to jump-start a year in which, he admits, "I've been swinging the club like an idiot."
Rickie Fowler (68), Ernie Els (73), Jim Furyk (76) and Paul Casey (75) were among the bold-faced names who missed the cut. Furyk's MC was just his third in 16 appearances here. Australian Greg Chalmers made six 3s in a row on the front nine and 11 overall to shoot a 65 for the best round of the day. He was at 6 under, four behind Toms.
"I like the warm conditions," Toms said. "I like the Bermuda [grass] through and through. I like the golf course."
Toms and Watney will tee off at 2:45 p.m. ET Saturday.