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Three share lead at Players Championship

Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and Kevin Na are at eight under. Tiger Woods makes four birdies in a row to shoot 68 and make the cut.

May 11, 2012|By Jeff Shain
  • Matt Kuchar follows through on his tee shot on the 18th hole during the second round of the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on Friday.
Matt Kuchar follows through on his tee shot on the 18th hole during the second… (Erik S. Lesser / EPA )

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The way these first two days have played out, the Players Championship could just as easily have been contested about 90 minutes up the highway.

Call it the Frederica Golf Club member-guest. All that seems to be missing are their fellow Sea Island denizens — and who knows how many might be heading down for the weekend anyway.

"We have a great crew of guys up in Sea Island," said Matt Kuchar, whose four-under-par 68 Friday lifted him alongside neighbor Zach Johnson — and "ringer" Kevin Na — after two rounds at TPC Sawgrass.

Harris English, a PGA Tour rookie, lurks one stroke off the pace. And Jonathan Byrd is another shot back, giving the coastal Georgia enclave four of the top nine names on the leaderboard.

"It's pretty impressive," Kuchar said.

Tiger Woods had things going too, breaking out of his recent struggles with a 68 that took the suspense out of a second week of watching the cut line.

Last week's stop at Quail Hollow marked only the eighth time that Woods missed a cut since turning pro in August 1996. He has never done it in back-to-back starts, though his opening 74 put him back on the precipice.

"I probably could have gotten one or two more [birdies] out of it," Woods said, "but I really played well today."

Even a shoe malfunction didn't derail the former world No. 1. Heck, it might have been the antidote. Two holes after changing out a torn right shoe, Woods reeled off four consecutive birdies, starting at No. 8.

"I tore the eyelet out of it," Woods explained. "Just the way it goes. I had another backup pair – swapped the right shoe out, and off we went."

Friday brought a far different outcome, though, for the current No. 1. Rory McIlroy found himself with an unplanned free weekend after carding a 76, missing the cut for the third time in as many visits to the Players.

"It's just a course that you have to figure out, and it's taken me a while," said McIlroy, who just five days earlier was part of a three-man Wells Fargo Championship playoff won by Rickie Fowler.

Nor was McIlroy alone, with No.5 Hunter Mahan and No.6 Steve Stricker also missing the cut. Combined with Masters champion Bubba Watson's absence, four of the top seven players in the rankings won't spend the weekend at TPC Sawgrass.

"It's one of those things where you just have to hit the ball well at the right time," Woods said. "You just can't fake it around this place."

Johnson and Na both turned in the day's best round with 66s, reaching the midway point at eight-under 136 alongside Kuchar.

English, making his first Players appearance, carded a 67 to stay one step ahead of Byrd (70), Charlie Wi (67), Martin Laird (73), Adam Scott (70) and Brian Davis (70).

jshain@orlandosentinel.com@latimes.com

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