Sergio Garcia fired a seven-under 65 on Friday and held onto the 36-hole lead after Round 2 of The Players Championship. However, Tiger Woods is right on his tail, just one stroke behind after a second consecutive round of 67 put him at 10-under-par overall.
Garcia won this event in 2008 in a playoff, and Woods triumphed 12 years ago at the pinnacle of his dominance in the game of golf. If either one wins, Garcia or Woods would break the trend of the past 19 years in which no past champions have held the trophy on Sunday.
Below is a look at the top contenders entering moving day at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
|1||Sergio Garcia ||68-65||-11|
|2||Tiger Woods ||67-67||-10|
|T3||Lee Westwood ||69-66 ||-9|
|T3||Kevin Chappell ||69-66||-9|
|T6||Ryan Palmer ||67-69||-8
|T6||Casey Wittenberg ||67-69||-8|
|T9||Matt Kuchar ||71-66||-7
|T9||Hunter Mahan ||67-70||-7
Beginning his day on the back nine, the artist formerly known as El Nino commenced his round rather innocuously. However, he would heat up in a big way.
Birdies at Nos. 16 and 18 preceded a bogey just after the turn, but Garcia turned it on thereafter to the tune of five consecutive birdies and six in seven holes.
In hitting 15 of 18 greens in regulation, Garcia also capitalized, gaining more than four strokes on the rest of the field in putting—and made 146 total feet of putts. One of the best in the world from tee to green for years, the flatstick has been his downfall. Garcia is showing marked improvement there, though.
As the PGA Tour's official Twitter page documented, Woods' round was boosted by this 252-yard approach shot to 20 feet, then drained the putt for an eagle on the par-five second hole:
That absorbed the two bogeys Woods yielded at Nos. 14 and 7, but the longer holes continue to treat him well. Woods is eight-under on the par-fives this week.
This won't be the first time Woods and Garcia are paired together—far from it—and holding the lead is not exactly an ideal position for Garcia historically, as PGA Tour Media's Twitter page alludes to:
Still early, but Garcia has been a leader or co-leader five previous times on the PGA TOUR, with one victory (2001 Buick Classic).— PGA TOUR Media (@PGATOURmedia) May 10, 2013
Renowned golf analyst Steve Elling couldn't help but poke a little fun at Woods. The image surmises the 14-time major winner's hypothetical reaction upon learning of being paired with the man who challenged him as a teenager at Medinah in the 1999 PGA Championship:
"Tiger, it looks like you will be playing alongside your close personal friend, Sergio Garcia, in the third round." twitter.com/EllingYelling/…— Steve Elling (@EllingYelling) May 10, 2013
Reigning Masters champion Adam Scott is just four strokes back after a stellar round of 68. He won here in 2004, and it would be something if he could pull off another victory at what's widely labeled golf's "fifth major."
Let's take a look at other golfers who are making headlines other than the aforementioned trio.
Could Matt Kuchar be the first to successfully defend?
Jack Nicklaus won this event a record three times in his illustrious career, but he never did it in back-to-back years. Hard to blame the Golden Bear, because no one has ever pulled off that feat.
After a wonderful six-under 66, though, Kuchar is in prime position to contend and sits just four strokes off the pace.
Part of Kuchar's impressive showcase was this approach to the frightening par-three 17th, which he then converted into a birdie to get to three-under on his first nine:
Georgia Tech associate athletic director Wayne Hogan was proud of the Kuchar, who is a Yellow Jacket alum, and highlighted just how far Kuchar's sparkling round vaulted him up the leaderboard:
Kuchar isn't going to intimidate opponents with his unconventional one-plane swing and lack of substantial length. However, he is among the most consistent pros on tour, and his all-around game translates so well to the TPC Sawgrass.
Rory McIlroy still in the hunt
The No. 2-ranked player in the world continues to suffer through various inconsistent stretches. He fired a 66 in Round 1, but had to scrap for an even-par 72 on Friday.
McIlroy's swing got a little bit looser than he would have liked near the end of the front nine, and it caused him to drop shots at Nos. 7 through 9.
What plagues McIlroy is getting stuck too far to the inside on his downswing, which causes his hands to get too far out in front, prematurely releasing the club through impact and sending the ball left.
On the back side, he tidied things up a bit, especially with this approach to the par-four 10th hole, which defied the laws of physics in not dropping for an eagle two:
Though it doesn't seem possible given the way Woods is playing at this point, there's still an outside shot that McIlroy could regain the No. 1 world ranking, as ESPN's Justin Ray points out:
Rory McIlroy can regain the world number 1 position this week with a win and Tiger Woods finishing worse than 13th alone.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) May 10, 2013
Regardless, sitting in a tie for 13th entering the last two rounds is far better than the three missed cuts McIlroy had in his previous three appearances at TPC Sawgrass.
Lee Westwood's scintillating start
Fourteen consecutive pars began the tournament for Westwood, but he birdied three of the last four holes on Thursday.
Who will win The Players Championship?
Westwood is flashing some incredible consistency thus far, and the bigger the tournament, the more prominently he seems to figure into contention.
Having said that, finding the winners circle on this side of the pond hasn't been as easy for Westwood as it was in Europe. Now that he's on the U.S. PGA full time, this would be the ideal time to add a third tour victory to his resume.