Veterans leading the field at windy Players

Bernhard Langer, who is the leading money winner on the Champions Tour, is only one back after a five-under 67.
Robert Beck/SI

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — When Kenny Perry turned pro in 1982, the cost of a stamp was 20 cents, Reagan was in the White House, and "E.T." played in theaters. At 47, Perry is a veteran of two Lasik surgeries, wears contacts during the day and glasses at night, and complains to his wife that he can't read greens anymore.

In the final pairing of the 2008 Players on Saturday, he'll be the young one.

Perry shot a 2-under-par 70 on Friday to get to 6-under overall, good enough for a one-stroke lead through 36 holes. He's being chased by a group of three players led by Bernhard Langer, 50, who stormed up the leaderboard with a 5-under-par 67 to get to 5-under overall. Sergio Garcia (73) and Paul Goydos (71) were also at 5-under.

"I've played almost 600 tournaments [on Tour]," Perry said. "I've got 560, I think — 550, 560, somewhere around there. I've always said you can't put a price on experience."

"I'm trying to enjoy my last few years of golf," said Langer, who started his round with four birdies and an eagle in his first eight holes. "You know, I'm 50. I'm only going to play a few more years. You're not going to see me out here in my 70s, I don't think."

The wind blew considerably harder than it did on day one, with gusts up to 35 mph, driving younger players to madness. Charley Hoffman was so disgusted after missing a short putt on the 13th hole he hurled his putter into the water hazard, putting with a wedge for the rest of his round. (He shot 83.) Garcia watched in dismay as his tee shot ended up on the Astroturf footpath leading up to the island green on the 17th. He made double-bogey 5 to drop out of the lead. Jim Furyk got himself right into the thick of things with a 4-under 32 on the back nine, his first nine of the day, but shot a 40 on the front to finish at 2-over, one stroke inside the cut line.

"It was the kind of day where you could shoot a big number in a hurry," Perry said. "You're at the mercy of the wind. It was hard to ever feel comfortable on any tee shot."

Anthony Kim shot his second straight 70 and was at 4-under, two off Perry's lead, while playing partner Boo Weekley was another shot back after a 71. Fred Couples, 48, and 2006 Players champion Stephen Ames led a group of six players at 2-under, four back, while Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson were among a trio at 1-under.

"Anything under par heading into the weekend is right in it," said Mickelson, who made three birdies and four bogeys Friday. "Even par is right in it."

Tougher conditions brought experience to the forefront. Perry is making his 20th start at TPC Sawgrass and said he was inspired by a visit to Fred Funk's house earlier this week. Funk was less than three months from his 49th birthday when he won the 2005 Players.

"I got a good look at his trophy," said Perry, a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour who has fallen more or less off the radar since a 2006 knee operation. "That guy inspired me. He's something else, that little guy. How old was he when he won, 49? That's two years away for me, or a year and a half."

Perry has fallen to 99th in the World Ranking, but as a native Kentuckian he's found inspiration in the fact that his home state will host the Ryder Cup in the fall. He's a woeful 51st on the Ryder Cup points list but desperate to get on the team, and has been doing whatever possible to get in the good graces of U.S. captain Paul Azinger.

"I've been needling him a lot and playing practice rounds with him," Perry said, laughing like a kid who knows he's sucking up to the teacher. "Staying in his eyesight."

Langer has won twice on the Champions tour this year, once in similar (if not more severe) wind down the Florida coast. He's in his 23rd start at the Players and despite various aches and pains that have prompted him to spend more time than usual in the fitness trailer this week, he looks as formidable as he did in the mid-90s. That's when he won the second of his two Masters titles and finished second twice in a three-year stretch at Sawgrass.

"I came here hurting really bad in four areas," said Langer, who turned pro in 1972, when Atari introduced the first video game, Pong. "My lower back, which influenced my groin and my left knee, and my shoulder has been hurting for a year. So I was a mess, and contemplating withdrawing from the tournament Wednesday evening."

He started feeling better and decided to play, which looked like an especially good decision when he was going 6-under for his first eight holes Friday, a career-best start he would later call "close to perfection." He needed only to get up and down from 80 yards to birdie the par-5 ninth hole and shoot a 29, but instead he pulled his approach into a bunker and made bogey, the second day in a row he'd made 6 from that spot in the fairway.

"I felt like throwing up," Langer said. But no matter. He felt like throwing up his hands, and did, when he got that dropped shot back with a 60-foot birdie putt on 17, a bomb that detonated a massive roar from the party crowd that surrounded the infamous island hole.

Someone suggested that Langer use his putter next time he's in the middle of the fairway, 80 yards away, and he laughed. He had shot the best second round amid dizzying highs and sickening lows, fake grass and a flying putter. He was enjoying his golden years, with the potential for crystal on Sunday.