A handful of past champions find themselves in contention at the midway point of the Players Championship.
Sergio Garcia, who won the 2008 Players, shot 7-under 65 on Friday at TPC Sawgrass. At 11 under, Garcia leads 2001 champ Tiger Woods by one shot.
Henrik Stenson, who won the tournament in 2009, is 9 under after his 5-under 67. Last year’s champion, Matt Kuchar, fired a 6-under 66 to move to 7 under along with Adam Scott, the 2004 winner who fired a second-round 68.
But there are still plenty of big names within striking distance searching for their first victories at Pete Dye’s Players Stadium course, including Lee Westwood, Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson and Rory McIlroy.
Here are 5 Things you need to know from Friday’s second round:
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GOOD MEMORIES: Sergio Garcia is back on top at the Players.
The last time Garcia ended the day as the leader at TPC Sawgrass was after he defeated Paul Goydos in a playoff for the 2008 Players crown. He also finished runner-up here in 2007, so he has some good memories at the Players Stadium course.
Five years later, Garcia is on his way to adding another one. He leads at the tournament’s halfway point after carding a 7-under 65 Friday to move to 11 under and take a one-shot lead into the weekend.
“Good thoughts are always good, and what happened here five years ago was great; what happened here six years ago was great,” Garcia said. “Fortunately for me, I’ve managed to play quite decent on this golf course, so any good thing that you can get in your head, it’s obviously positive, and those kind of things always help.”
Garcia’s second round was boosted by a stretch of six birdies in seven holes starting at the par-5 second. Garcia then birdied Nos. 3-6 before adding another at the par-3 eighth. He also had birdies at Nos. 16 and 18.
“It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon,” Garcia said. “There are going to be good days and not-so-good days, so just got to enjoy the good ones as much as possible.”
Garcia is just hoping the not-so-good days hold off at least through the weekend.
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BETTER THAN MOST: After a second straight 5-under 67, Tiger Woods made a little bit of history Friday at the Players.
At 10-under 134, Woods’ 36-hole total bests his previous career best by six shots. He was at 4-under 140 after two rounds of the Players in 2009, when he ended up finishing solo eighth.
And after posting back-to-back rounds in the 60s at the Players for the first time since 2004, Woods has set himself up well for a weekend charge.
“If you can take advantage of this golf course, take advantage of the par-5s, you can shoot some good numbers here,” said Woods, who enters Saturday just one shot back of leader Sergio Garcia.
Playing the par-5s well and missing in the right spots have been keys for Woods this week at TPC Sawgrass, a course that tests every facet of one’s game and rewards those who pick their spots carefully around the Pete Dye layout.
He’s played the par-5s in 7 under through two rounds this week, including making an eagle at the par-5 second hole – Woods sliced a 5-wood into the green and made the 18-footer for his seventh eagle of the PGA Tour season. He had just four last season.
And as far as missing in the right spots goes, Tiger hasn’t missed much this week – he missed just three greens on Friday and was bogey-free on Thursday before adding two bogeys in the second round.
Despite his recent struggles at the Players – Woods has just one top-10 finish since winning in 2001 – Tiger believes his success this year, with three victories and a T-4 at the Masters, bodes well for his chances here in Ponte Vedra Beach.
“I played really well here through a stretch there in 2000-2001,” said Woods, who also was runner-up at the 2000 Players. “I did pretty well through there and came here playing well. I think that is the key. You just have to come here playing well, and what I’ve done so far this year has been pretty good, and better than most.”
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RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: Last year’s Players champ Matt Kuchar is back near the top of the leaderboard after shooting a 6-under 66 Friday.
But don’t think just because he’s won here before, that alone means he’s a lock to have similar success this time around.
“This is the thing where you’ve just got to be playing good golf, whether (you’re a) past champion or not,” Kuchar said. “Course knowledge only helps when you’re playing good golf. . . . I think past champions always have a good feeling around a course they’ve won on, and that certainly helps out.”
Kuchar showed that good feeling Friday, making seven birdies, including four on the front nine coming from putts less than 5 feet. He also birdied the par-3 17th after sticking his tee shot to about 8 feet. It was a contrast to his first round, where he failed to take advantage of his opportunities.
“I felt like I played good golf (on Thursday) and wasn’t able to take advantage of some good shots I had,” Kuchar said. “Today those opportunities came back, and I was able to take advantage and really feel good about my game.”
Kuchar won the WGC-Accenture Match Play earlier this season and has three other top-10s. He also hasn’t finished worse than T-38 in 10 events.
So not only is Kuchar’s game at a high level, he’s finding his magic at TPC Sawgrass again, and that’s a recipe for success if you ask him.
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THE PLAYERS . . . WHO MISSED THE CUT: Billy Horschel’s cuts streak has ended at the hands of the Players Stadium course.
Horschel, who had made 23 straight cuts on Tour, shot 1-under 71 on Friday, but a triple bogey at No. 18 dropped him below the cut line. A winner two weeks ago at the Zurich Classic, Horschel finished his tournament at 3 over.
Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh were among those just outside the cut line, each finishing at 1 over. Mickelson shot 1-over 73 Friday while Vijay Singh carded a second-round 71.
Last year’s runner-up, Rickie Fowler, just missed out on the weekend, too, following an opening-round 73 with 72 on Friday.
“It’s like there’s cellophane over the hole right now,” Fowler said.
Derek Ernst, who won last week at the Wells Fargo Championship, shot a second-round 81 to finish his tournament at 11 over.
Other notables who missed the cut include 2010 Players champ Tim Clark, Justin Rose, Jim Furyk, Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Ernie Els.
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SHORT SHOTS: A day after Jason Dufner holed his approach for eagle at the par-4 18th, Marc Leishman followed suit. From 172 yards out, Leishman found the bottom of the cup with his second shot at No. 18. There are now four eagles in tournament history at the final hole, and two have come in this year’s first two rounds. Leishman finished with a 6-under 66 to move to 6 under overall. . . . First-round leader Roberto Castro, who shot 9-under 63 on Thursday, carded a 6-over 78 on Friday to fall back to 3 under. Castro had just one birdie, five bogeys and a double bogey. . . . David Lingmerth had missed eight cuts in his last 10 Tour events since losing in a playoff at the Humana Challenge. He’s 8 under through two rounds at the Players after a 4-under 68 Friday. . . . Dustin Johnson, who was 2 over after Thursday’s first round, withdrew due to a lower back injury.