JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Matt Kuchar had to make birdies just to keep pace with all the low scoring around him at Liberty National. Only when his short day at The Barclays ended was he able to sit back and enjoy the view.
And what a view it was.
One moment, it was so dark on the par-5 13th hole that Kuchar could barely see his second shot clear the water and land on the green, setting up a two-putt birdie that put him atop the leaderboard Friday evening. He thought there was no way to continue. He waited for the horn to sound that would stop play.
But as he walked beyond a row of trees to the par-3 14th, the sky brightened.
Attribute that to the electricity emanating from lower Manhattan across the Hudson River.
“Coming out over the water, it brightened up by a good margin. It's actually a beautiful skyline,'' Kuchar said. “I think when the sun sets coming off, it was a nice little place to be this time of night.''
Even better was his position atop the leaderboard at 10-under par. He returned to Barclays early Saturday morning to complete his second round at 11-under. Kuchar holds a two-shot lead over Webb Simpson and Gary Woodland, who both finished the second round. Only 18 players who teed off in the afternoon managed to finish.
Simpson had to play 29 holes – 11 holes to finish his first round in the morning, followed by his second round – and he was ready to go more. He ran off six birdies over an eight-hole stretch and had a 5-under 66.
“It's much nicer when you're playing well to keep playing. And when you're playing well, you feel like you could play 40 holes in a day,'' Simpson said. “My main goal … I just wanted to get done today. It just felt nice to putt out on 9, knowing that I've got tonight to sleep and catch up on rest.''
Woodland was one of the last players to finish at twilight Friday, and he finished strong. Woodland, back on track after a win at the Reno-Tahoe Open three weeks ago, birdied four of his last five holes for a 64 to join Simpson in the clubhouse at 9-under 133.
“I feel ecstatic right now to be done,'' Woodland said. “It was a close call coming down the stretch if we would be able to finish. Luckily, I played great today, gave myself a lot of opportunities, and I drove the ball phenomenally and rolled some putts in, especially late.''
As for Tiger Woods, he couldn't get off the course fast enough.
Woods challenged the target set by Simpson with three birdies in five holes – he was two shots behind – and he had a pair of par 5s in front of him. He failed to make birdie on either, and made three bogeys out of the bunker through the 12th hole to fall off the pace. He made birdie on the 13th, the last hole he completed, but was still five shots behind Kuchar, who was in his group. Woods returned to the course early Saturday and finished his second round at 6-under, tied for 8th with Rory McIlroy among others.
“I got off to a great start today and then lost it the middle part of the round and made too many mistakes,'' Woods said.
He also said his back remained sore from what he said earlier in the week was due to a soft bed in his hotel that led to stiffness in his neck and back. He said the pain increased throughout the round and when asked if a specific shot made it hurt, he replied, “Every one.''
“I'm going to get treatment right now … and be ready for tomorrow morning,'' Woods said.
It was the second straight year at The Barclays he has said a soft hotel bed caused stiffness in his back. Last year, it caused him trouble in the third round.
Keegan Bradley set the tournament course record with a 63 and was at 7-under 135, along with Rickie Fowler (64) and Adam Scott, who was tied for the lead at one point until a lazy finish for a 66.
Phil Mickelson, trying to retool his game after his British Open win, had a 69 and was seven shots behind the clubhouse lead.
Rory McIlroy showed more signs of turning his game around. After three double bogeys on Thursday, he limited the mistakes with some nifty par saves and was at 5 under with two holes remaining, starting with a shot from the 17th fairway after a big tee shot.
The last time The Barclays was at Liberty National, Heath Slocum won at 9-under 275. Since then, some of the landing areas were widened and the slopes on the greens were softened. Plus, the course has very little rough this year. And the soft conditions from the rain Thursday were making it easier to make birdies.
For some players, the year was over.
Ben Crane, after opening with a 67, had to withdraw with a lower back injury after playing just four holes of the second round. At No. 125 in the FedEx Cup, he won't be among the 100 players advancing to the second playoff event next week outside Boston.
Lucas Glover withdrew with a hand injury, ending his season.
The cut would not be made until Saturday morning, and Erik Compton needed two more rounds to try to qualify for the next tournament. He did his part, a birdie-birdie finish to get back to even-par 142. That was right on the line for making the cut.