PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kevin Na was in a familiar position Friday at The Players Championship. In some respects, so was Tiger Woods.
Na spent his opening five holes trading birdies and bogeys before he settled into a solid round of 3-under 69 that gave him the lead among the early starters in the second round at the TPC Sawgrass. He had a two-shot lead over Branden Grace of South Africa and David Hearn of Canada.
Na had the 54-hole lead at The Players three years ago when most of the attention was on his slow play and his fear of taking the club back. He faded on Sunday. Na has that under control and has a good outlook about the weekend.
“I think I’m mentally tougher because I had gone through that, and I’m a lot more happier,” said Na, who was at 8-under 136.
Woods has never finished a round Friday at the Stadium Course without having a tee time for Saturday. He kept that streak alive with a 10-foot birdie putt on his final hole to complete an up-and-down round of 71. The cut had a chance to go to 1-over 145. Woods wanted to leave nothing to chance and got in at 144.
“Anyone who makes the cut certainly has a chance on this golf course,” Woods said. “And then if you put together a good round, you never know what could happen at the end. We’ve seen that over the years.”
That leaves Phil Mickelson out of the mix.
In his first start since a runner-up finish at the Masters, he made nine birdies over two rounds and finished at 5-over 149 to miss the cut. Mickelson has gone 11 straight rounds without breaking 70 at the TPC Sawgrass, and this was the third straight year he missed the cut.
“I was thinking to myself as I was walking around, `I can’t believe I’ve actually won here,'” Mickelson, who did that in 2007. “This is a very penalizing course. I kept hitting it in sports that were impossible recoveries.”
Masters champion Jordan Spieth was trying not to join him on the way down the road. Spieth, who opened with a 75, and Rory McIlroy were among those who played in the afternoon. McIlroy opened with a 69.
Such is the nature of the TPC Sawgrass that no one ever felt safe.
Defending champion Martin Kaymer made two quick birdies and was one shot out of the lead. When he finished the back nine, he was in danger of missing the cut after a tee shot into the water on the 18th and a double bogey. Kaymer slowed his swing, hit some fairways and recovered with three birdies for a 72.
Russell Henley had a six-hole stretch around the turn that he played in 5 under and was the first player to get to 7 under. He finished double bogey-bogey for a 70 and wound up four shots back.
Bill Haas went bogey-free for a 67 that left him only three shots behind going into the weekend. A card without bogeys is rare.
Na was all over the map early on. He missed the fairway on his opening hole and made bogey. He bounced back with a 15-foot birdie putt and a 20-foot birdie putt, only to give one of those back with a bogey on No. 4. Most importantly, he found the middle of the island green on the par-3 17th and holed a 15-foot birdie putt.
He tries not to think back to those days when he couldn’t take the club back, and at times purposely swung over the ball so he could start the process again. And he’s not looking too far ahead to a big weekend which could change his career. At the very least, it could make him known more for his slow play or the time he made a 16 on one hole at the Texas Open.
“I think my career has really progressed in the past few years, and I’m not going to think of this as, `You know what? I’m in the lead, I’ve got two more days.’ I’m just going to go out there and try to enjoy what’s going on right now, which have I been the first two days,” he said. “If I keep enjoying myself, I think good results are going to come.”