PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – The Players Championship is shaping up to be more than just a duel between Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods.
There are 18 players within five shots of the lead, including current major champions Adam Scott, Webb Simpson and Rory McIlroy. The list also includes Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson.
The star-studded leaderboard should provide plenty of theater on the tricky Stadium Course. The third round begins Saturday morning.
“It's still stacked up with so many guys with a chance going into the weekend,'' Woods said.
Garcia and Woods are the main attraction, playing together in the final group on the weekend for the first time in nearly seven years.
Garcia made seven straight putts – six of them for birdie – on his way to a 7-under 65 in the second round Friday to match his best score at TPC Sawgrass.
That gave him a one-shot lead over Woods, who took advantage of the par 5s to post his second straight 67. Woods broke his own 36-hole record at Sawgrass by six shots and couldn't find much wrong with his game right now.
“I'm pretty pleased with where it's at right now,'' Woods said.
Garcia feels good about where he's at, too. He even seemed undaunted about being paired with Woods.
“I don't have to measure myself against anybody,'' said Garcia, who is at 11-under 133. “I know what I want to try to do, and any given day I can shoot a round like this and any other day he can shoot a good round and beat me. Like we always say, it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. So there are going to be good days and not so good days, so just got to enjoy the good ones as much as possible.''
Woods and Garcia have played together on big stages – Bethpage Black, Royal Liverpool – with a big edge for Woods. They first were linked when the Spaniard was 19 and gave Woods all he could handle at Medinah in the 1999 PGA Championship. They were paired in the final round of the 2002 U.S. Open and the 2006 British Open.
But with the tournament only halfway over, it would be silly to consider it a two-man competition.
Westwood chipped in from 100 feet for eagle on the 11th hole and was atop the leaderboard until making pars on his last eight holes. He had a 66 and was two shots behind, along with Kevin Chappell (66) and Stenson, who had two eagles on the front nine in his round of 67.
Ryan Palmer, who learned Thursday night that one of his best friends died in a car accident in San Antonio, had two eagles in a round of 69 and was three shots behind. Defending champion Matt Kuchar birdied three of his final four holes for a 66 and was at 7-under 137, along with Scott, Mahan and Johnson.
McIlroy was coming off back-to-back bogeys when he chose to go for the green in two at the par-5 ninth – he had planned to lay up each day. He hit the trees and got into a mess, making his third straight bogey. He rallied on the back for a 72 and was in the group at 6-under 138.
“I've made the cut, which I'm delighted about,'' said McIlroy, who had missed the weekend his three previous times. “But I am in there with a chance.''
Woods won The Players in 2001, highlighted by that 60-foot putt on the island green described by NBC Sports analyst Gary Koch as “better than most.'' But he has only seriously contended twice, and he has failed to crack the top 20 eight times in 15 appearances.
“I haven't played my best here, but I've always felt that courses, even though it's been a while I've won on them, I've still won on them,'' Woods said. “I know how to get around this golf course. This course, more than most, really tests every facet of your game. You have to drive the ball well. You have to hit your irons in the correct spots, and if you don't hit your irons in the correct spots, you're going to have some really funky up-and-downs.
“It's trying to manage the ball in the correct spots, and I've done that the first two days.''
Garcia did the same for two hours.
His streak began with a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 second. He stuffed his tee shot into 6 feet on the third, and then hit wedge to 8 feet on the fourth. He followed that with his two long birdie putts, made a putt just inside 15 feet for par on the seventh and ended his big run with the 40-footer on No. 8.
Garcia also is a past Players champion, winning a playoff in 2008.
“Fortunately for me, I've managed to play quite decent on this golf course,'' Garcia said. “So any good thing that you can get in your head, it's obviously positive and those kind of things always help. But it's a different year. We'll see if we can manage to do something similar.''