JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Webb Simpson looked at the scores and the weather, neither of which indicated an easy time Friday at Liberty National. He quickly settled on a simple game plan Friday and made it pay off in The Barclays.
Simpson took advantage on some of the shorter holes to give him a cushion for the inevitable mistakes. It led to a 3-under 68 on a long, tough and wet afternoon that put the 24-year-old rookie atop the leaderboard for the first time all year.
“My caddie and I talked beforehand about taking advantage of the par 5s and the shorter par 4s, just because we knew we were going to make bogeys,” Simpson said. “It was just one of those long, tough days. But I feel good with where I’m at.”
He was at 8-under 134, two shots clear of Paul Goydos and Steve Marino, who started the second round tied for the lead and did well to get around in even-par 71.
Sergio Garcia also was tied for the lead, got stuck in the morning wave and the worst of the rain, and shot a 76.
“It was hands down – I mean, forget about the PGA (Championship) – it was the longest course I’ve played this year, the way it was playing,” Garcia said. “I don’t know how many 5-, 4- and 3-irons I hit into the greens. I hit some woods into the green.”
Tiger Woods tried to hit driver onto one green on the 16th, where the tees were moved up. His shot sailed 65 yards wide of his target, over the water hazard, beyond the tee boxes at No. 17. He nearly crushed a tee marker before stopping the club a foot short, and while he made par, it summed up his frustration.
Woods had a 72, yet still moved up 10 spots on the leaderboard into a tie for 17th at even-par 142. For the second straight day, he refused to meet with the reporters to discuss his round.
Smiles were rare on Friday, except at the top of the leaderboard.
The cut came at 5-over 147, matching the highest cut of the year (Bay Hill). Only nine players broke par, one day after there were 26 scores under par. The average score was 74.361, nearly 2 1/2 shots harder than the first round.
Simpson and Ernie Els had the low round at 68, and the Big Easy only got there with a driver on the 16th hole that stopped 8 feet from the hole for an eagle.
Goydos was atop the leaderboard for most of the round until he finished with three bogeys over his last four holes. He at least was happy to make enough pars and birdies that a sloppy ending to his round didn’t hurt him.
Plus, he knew what to expect.
“I was watching it a little bit this morning, and it didn’t look like anybody was having a whole lot of fun,” Goydos said. “And quite frankly, I went downstairs about nine o’clock and looked down, and didn’t look like the guy parking the cars was having a whole lot of fun, either.”
The difficulty came from a combination of factors.
A half-dozen tees were moved up, which helped. What hurt was the wet conditions – the rain in the morning and the soft turf throughout the cloudy day – and the heavy air that kept the ball from traveling very far.
“Throw in the fact that if you do hit it a little crooked, you’ve got 3 or 4 inches of wet rough,” Goydos said. “You’ve got greens that look like my shirts after I’ve packed them. It just makes for a challenge.”
Some players’ hopes for the $10 million FedEx Cup prize ended on Friday. Among those who missed the cut and will not finish among the top 100 to advance to Boston were Ben Curtis (84), Mark Calcavecchia (79) and Steve Flesch, who was disqualified after a 76.
The flip side is Heath Slocum, who finished bogey-double bogey for a 72 and still was tied for fourth at 4-under 138 with Fredik Jacobson, who had a 72. Slocum made the top 125 to qualify for the playoffs by a measly two points. If he were to remain in a tie for fourth at the end of the week, he would go from No. 124 to No. 37 in the standings.
Simpson is No. 85 in the standings on the strength of a strong West Coast, and mediocre golf the rest of the season. He turned it around at a good time, however, at least made himself the player to chase going into the weekend, with more wet weather in the forecast. Tee times Saturday were pushed back a few hours in case of heavy rain expected overnight.
“I couldn’t have picked a better time to be playing well here in the playoffs,” Simpson said. “I’m sure a lot of emotions will be going through my head tomorrow. But you know, I’m a big believer in prayer, so I’ll go to bed saying a few prayers tonight and come out tomorrow just like I did today.”
Whatever he says will be more than Woods has offered after the first two days.
He headed straight to the locker room after making bogey from a fairway bunker on the 18th hole. It was the first time since the second round of the Memorial that he failed to break par in a regular PGA Tour event.
Woods missed only three fairways all day, yet he missed several putts, including a 5-foot birdie attempt.