So much for the Roberto Castro era dawning at the 2013 Players Championship.
The Round 1 marvel, who tied a Stadium Course record with a nine-under 63 on Thursday, went cascading back to the pack in Friday's action. With a score of six-over 78 putting him eight shots behind the leader heading into the weekend, Castro would likely need to find another amazing round to contend.
However, just because Midnight struck on Cinderella doesn't mean intrigue is gone. A quick look at the leaderboard puts most nostalgic golf fans in a trance, stuck in the early 2000s where Tiger Woods vs. Sergio Garcia meant a battle for the sport's supremacy.
Now, we know who sits atop the throne. Woods is the No. 1 golfer in the world and winner of 14 major championships. Garcia has eight PGA Tour wins in his entire career.
That being said, it's Woods who is looking up at Garcia heading into the weekend. With a seven-under 65, Garcia stormed ahead of the pack to take the lead from Woods, who is one stroke behind. Two of golf's most recognizable names, the Woods and Garcia pairing always has plenty of entertainment value.
With Lee Westwood hanging around at nine-under and Masters winner Adam Scott being four strokes behind, Saturday's action at the TPC Sawgrass should be worthy of "fifth major" status.
Here is a complete breakdown of everything you need to know about Saturday's third round.
Round 2 Leaderboard
|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|
All scores, stats and tee times for this event are attributable to the PGA's official website.
Tee Times: Begins at 8:25 a.m. ET
Course Location: TPC Sawgrass; Players Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Course Information: Par 72 (7,215 yards)
Saturday Television Information
|2 p.m. - 7 p.m. ET||Live Coverage||NBC|
Notable Afternoon Tee Times
|1:10 p.m. ET||Steve Stricker
|1:20 p.m. ET||Martin Laird
|1:30 p.m. ET||Jason Dufner
|1:50 p.m. ET||Zach Johnson
|2:00 p.m. ET||Hunter Mahan
|2:30 p.m. ET||Lee Westwood
|2:40 p.m. ET||Sergio Garcia
Golfers to Watch
Sergio Garcia (-11)
Having been a name in the national lexicon for almost a decade-and-a-half, it's hard to picture Garcia being just 33 years old. That's the same age Phil Mickelson was the first time he won a major championship, and while Lefty and Garcia have had two wildly different careers, El Nino seems to be heating back up.
After trudging through a difficult stretch over the past couple of years, Garcia has quietly been a consistent contender in 2013. He's finished worse than 16th in a stroke-play event just once this season—a cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Other than that, though, Garcia has made waves while not quite getting back in the winner's circle. He was at or near the top of the leaderboard throughout the week at Augusta, eventually faltering a bit en route to an eighth-place finish.
Could this be the week he finally gets back over the hump? It's starting to look that way. Garcia carded a beautiful seven-under score of 65 to give him a one-stroke lead over Tiger Woods heading into the weekend.
Starting on the back-nine, Garcia's round started a bit slow. He parred the first six holes, seemingly making a different mistake on each hole.
But for a 12-hole stretch starting at No. 16, Garcia showed why some once pegged him as "The Next Big Thing." Cupping putt after putt, Garcia went seven-under for the remaining stretch of holes, including a string of five straight birdies from holes No. 2 to 6. Putting was almost a form of art on Friday, and ESPN's Justin Ray had a great stat on just how good Garcia's round was:
Sergio Garcia: +4.1 strokes gained putting in 2nd round, best in the field.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) May 10, 2013
It's unlikely that Garcia can sustain that rate this weekend. Yet he's shown enough good things with the rest of his game that it's impossible to count him out—even as the rest of the world braces for the patented Garcia collapse.
Tiger Woods (-10)
We're going to go out on a limb here and say Tiger won't struggle to finish inside the top 40 the way he did last year. The world's No. 1 player, who came into this weekend having struggled mightily at Sawgrass, carded his second straight 67 and is only one stroke behind coming into the weekend.
Just as it had been on Thursday, Woods' key to the round was his excellence on par fives. He's eight under on the Stadium Course's four long holes, including a titillating eagle on hole No. 2 on Friday.
Playing with Garcia on Saturday should be another little added edge for El Tigre—at least if history is any indication. The last eight times these two have played in the same pairing, Woods is a combined 18-under while Garcia is a disconcerting 13-over-par, per ESPN's Justin Ray:
More than anything, Woods seems in total command of his game. He's hitting nearly 68 percent of his fairways—not bad for someone who had a tendency to spray shots off the tee—and has continued hitting crisp, solid putts. Though he did bogey twice on Friday after a couple of questionable mistakes, Woods was so good on the other 16 holes that it didn't matter.
By no means is Tiger a lock to win the Tour Championship. There's a reason we were just getting over the Y2K phenomenon the last time he won one of these things. Sawgrass has long been Woods' kryptonite among top events, and it's possible that he turns in a 76 on Saturday and the entire golf world weeps themselves to sleep.
That being said, Woods has shown no sign that a demise is coming. He's been sensational and is undoubtedly the tournament favorite at this point.
Adam Scott (-7)
Scott may not have had the most eventful 36 holes, but the Masters winner has continued to look worthy of his green jacket this week. Playing in his first tournament since capturing his first major championship, Scott has carded two red scores and has himself in position to contend for his second Players Championship crown.
The 32-year-old Australian has been especially brilliant off the tee. Scott leads the entire tournament in length, striking a booming 308.1 yards per drive. He's also kept his accuracy, hitting 82.1 percent of fairways and a tournament-best 86.1 greens in regulation.
If it seems like Scott's overall score, it probably should be. Probably even Scott would tell you he's left some strokes on the course.
Scott's biggest mistake of the day came on the par-five No. 2. Playing on a hole that's been the easiest for players all week—No. 16 is the only one even close—Scott carded a frustrating bogey on the hole.
In fact, par fives have strangely vexed Scott all week. He is only two-under on the long holes through two rounds, where most players have made their nut. As Benjamin Everill of the Australian Associated Press notes, the field better look out if Scott starts playing better on par fives:
Scott is -4 on the round despite bogey on par 5 2nd and par on par 5 11th... easy holes. if he gets it all going, look out.— Benjamin Everill (@beneverill) May 10, 2013
Even if Scott doesn't find a way to fix his woes on the long holes, he's playing well enough that it might not matter. Unless Woods or Garcia go out and card a really strong score on Saturday, it's hard to count out Scott even as he's five shots behind.
Rory McIlroy (-6)
So that's the Rory McIlroy we've become accustomed to being disappointed by at the Players Championship.
While we're understandably not quite ready to count out Scott due to his recent play, history says to be skeptical about McIlroy's chances going forward. Thursday was the first time the world's second-ranked golfer had ever broken par at the Players Championship, and he was right back at that number on Friday.
Carding an uneven 72, McIlroy didn't completely take himself out of the equation. But there still isn't much reason for folks to be optimistic that he can succeed in each of the weekend's final two rounds.
The problem—as it always is for McIlroy—was about consistency. Starting his day on the front nine, McIlroy birdied the easy second hole and seemed to be settling in for a good, not great round.
And then the wheels came off starting with No. 7. Three straight bogeys took him back to four-under for the entire tournament, with a patented Rory meltdown seemingly in the offing. But just as quickly as his game went off the tracks, McIlroy birdied Nos. 10 and 12 en route to escaping an ugly round even on the scorecard.
Obviously, that's not going to be good enough. Top players adorn the leaderboard, and they're not going to cower if the Northern Irishman makes a run. McIlroy is going to have to fix his game—especially on the green—and do it fast before he exits Florida with another major disappointment on his hands.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: Follow @tylerconway22