PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The Players Championship still lacks some definition going into the weekend. At least it still has one of golf’s star attractions.
In what looks to be a neighborhood block party, St Simons Island, Ga., residents Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson steered clear of trouble Friday and shared the 36-hole lead with Kevin Na.
They had a one-shot lead over former Georgia golfer Harris English, a PGA Tour rookie who also lives 100 miles to the north at St. Simons Island.
The attention shifted to Tiger Woods, who with one burst of birdies went from a guy struggling to make the cut to being on the periphery of contention. Woods missed the cut last week at Quail Hollow and has never missed consecutive cuts in his career. He said the thought never crossed his mind.
“I was trying to shoot my number today,” Woods said after 4-under-par 68. “Sixty-six was my number today. I figured that would have been a good way to go into the weekend, being probably four or five back. But I’m still with a good chance.”
Johnson made five birdies on the back nine until a bogey on the 18th hole, though he matched the best score of the second round with a 66. Kuchar, who made a strong run at the Masters Tournament last month, played bogey-free over his last 13 holes for 68. Na started the back nine with three consecutive birdies for 69.
They were at 8-under 136.
“It’s fun to be back in position with a chance to win again,” Kuchar said.
English birdied the 17th and 18th for 67, while the group at 138 included past champion Adam Scott (70).
Rory McIlroy doesn’t even get a chance to play. The U.S. Open champion, who only last week lost in a three-way playoff at Quail Hollow, opened with a birdie and didn’t make another one the rest of the day. He shot 76 and missed the cut for the first time in more than a year, though it wasn’t unusual at the TPC Sawgrass. In three appearances at The Players Championship, McIlroy has never broken par or made the cut.
“Hopefully, I’m coming back here for another 20 years,” McIlroy said. “If I don’t figure it out on my 20th, there’s something wrong.”
The cut was at even-par 144, and Woods was two shots over the cut line when he hit his best shot of the week, a 5-wood into a stiff breeze on the par-3 eighth that caught a slope on the edge of the green and rolled 8 feet from the flag. That was the first of four consecutive birdies, and when his tee shot to the island-green 17th settled at the very back of the green, he was safe.
Going into the weekend, nothing is settled. Even though Woods was only six shots behind, there were 29 players ahead of him.
One of them is Martin Laird, the only player to reach double digits under par for the week. He was at 10 under with three holes to play when he lost four shots on the last three holes. His hopes for eagle turned into bogey with a 4-iron into the water on the 16th, and he dunked one on No. 17 for double bogey.
The good news?
“I’m glad it happened on a Friday, and not on Sunday,” Laird said after 73 put him in a large group two shots behind.
Ben Curtis and FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas were in the group at 5-under 139, while the group at 3-under 141 included Quail Hollow playoff winner Rickie Fowler and Luke Donald, Lee Westwood also was at 141.