McIlroy-Scott-Stricker trio takes spotlight again

Adam Scott during the second round of the 2013 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Adam Scott during the second round of the 2013 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

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— Nothing like stuffing your wedge to 8 feet – and being the first in your group to putt because the others are tighter.

Oh, and jamming another wedge to 3 feet – only to putt first again?

Sort of tells you you’re in the big leagues, eh, Adam Scott?

“Well, they’re pretty good,” Scott said of his playing competitors for a second straight day, Rory McIlroy and Steve Stricker. “Give Steve Stricker a wedge and you know he’s going to be putting from a few feet and Rory is no slouch, either.”

Going right to the highlight reel, we bring you to the par-4 10th, a slight dogleg left. Stricker from 160 yards stuck his approach to 3 feet, McIlroy nearly holed his, and Scott from a mere 117 hit his to 8 feet. Birdie, birdie, birdie.

Two holes later, the boys all had 90-95-yard wedge shots. Stricker hit his to 2 1/2 feet, McIlroy was about the same distance, and Scott was just outside of them. Birdie times three again.

“It’s a tough act to follow,” Scott said with a smile. “I was just happy to kind of grab their coat tails and go along with them.”

Fact is, Scott played better in Friday’s second round of The Players Championship. Though he ended with a sloppy bogey at the 18th, Scott shot 4-under 68, pushed to 7-under 137, and got into a share of ninth, four off of Sergio Garcia’s lead.

The birdies at 10 and 12 notwithstanding, it wasn’t as brilliant a day for McIlroy and Stricker. Whereas they had opened with 66 and 67, respectively, an ugly close to his front nine (bogey, bogey, bogey) cost McIlroy dearly, while Stricker had to re-group after a double-bogey at the 14th.

Still, after shooting 72 (McIlroy) and 71 (Stricker), they are both 6-under, joint 13th.

“I’m still in there. I mean, I’ve made the cut, which I’m delighted about,” McIlroy said. He had a smile on his face, because in the kid from Northern Ireland had missed the cut in each of his three previous visits to TPC Sawgrass. But all kidding aside, he knows he slipped into a funk at the par-4 seventh (pulled his tee shot left, into water), par-3 eighth (he missed the green, then chunked his first wedge shot), and par-5 ninth (an ill-advised try for a Herculean second shot that smashed into trees and led to a third straight bogey) and seems convinced he’s in good form.

“If I can get off to a good start (Saturday), I’ll only be a few out of the lead,” he said.

He agreed, too, that he can't slip up and get overly aggressive. Trying to go up and over trees from 312 yards out and reach the green, like he did at the ninth? Isn't he the same guy who one day earlier said he was committed to absolutely playing the ninth as a three-shotter?

"Not making a stupid decision like the one I made on nine today," McIlroy said, when asked his plan from here on.

Stricker’s only hiccup came at the 14th, after pulling a 211-yard shot into a greenside bunker. Sand is thin in that particular bunker and Stricker’s seemingly good escape never had any spin on it and it trickled long down a swale behind the green. He compounded that mistake with a poor putt that never reached the green and from 12 feet he then needed two more putts.

Still, Stricker has hung with the kids and played beautifully for two days.

Ditto Scott, though he knows he has let some chances slip away. He bogeyed the third-easiest hole, the par-5 second. He then squandered a golden break at the par-5 11th.

With his ball pushed slightly right, it hit a Golf Channel cart parked too close to the ropes. Fortunately for Scott, the ball hit the cart and caromed perhaps 65 yards forward – and in the fairway.

It goes into the record books as a 357-yard drive and had folks laughing.

“No one said all luck has to be bad,” caddie Steve Williams said, but smiles were in short supply minutes later because from 202 yards, Scott was short with his next shot and from the bunker he splashed to 10 feet and missed.

He also didn’t birdie the par-5 16th and for two days he’s played the par-5s in just 2 under.

On the bright side, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who is striking it any better. Scott is tied for third in fairways hit (23 of 28) and first in greens (31 of 36), a blueprint for contention, for sure, though if it is to translate into victory, Scott knows things will have to change once he’s reached the dance floor.

“If I keep striking it well, I do like my chances because I feel like I’m kind of wearing the course down a little bit. (But) I’m trying to warm the putter up.”

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