McIlroy out, Tiger in and US trio atop Players
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida — Tiger Woods made the cut, top-ranked Rory McIlroy did not and a US trio that included 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson shared the 36-hole lead on Friday at The Players Championship.
Johnson fired a six-under par 66 to share the lead with US PGA Tour rookie Kevin Na and Matt Kuchar on eight-under par 136 after two rounds of the $9.5 million event at TPC Sawgrass.
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the record 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, avoided what would have been the first back-to-back missed cuts of his pro career by firing a 68 to stand on two-under 142.
“I probably could have gotten one or two more out of it but I really played well,” Woods said. “I was just very consistent, nothing spectacular, just real solid golf.”
Woods sank four birdies in a row starting at the par-3 eighth, including birdies at the par-5 ninth and 11th holes, to finish in a share of 30th among 72 players who made the cut on level par 144.
“I’m still with a good chance,” Woods said. “I was trying to just keep plugging along. I ended up making four in a row.”
Missing for the weekend will be Northern Ireland star McIlroy, who defends his US Open crown next month at San Francisco.
Last week, McIlroy lost in a playoff at Quail Hollow. This week, McIlroy opened with a 72, then followed with a 76 to miss the cut for the first time in more than a year.
McIlroy has missed the cut in all three of his Players starts.
“I just need to try and get the hang of this golf course somehow. I just find it pretty difficult,” McIlroy said. “You have really got to position your ball in the fairway to give yourself at least a chance to get to some of these pins. I just didn’t do that over the last couple of days.
“Hopefully, I’m coming back here for another 20 years. If I don’t figure it out on my 20th go, there’s something wrong.”
Johnson birdied three of the first four holes, took a bogey at the par-4 seventh, then opened the back nine with four birdies in the first five holes. He added a birdie at the par-5 16th but closed with a bogey.
“It was pretty solid,” Johnson said. “I got off to a good start, which certainly kind of gives you a little bit of confidence, little bit of momentum, especially with my putter.
“I never really gave the golf course much. I kept it where you need to keep it. I was aggressive when I could be aggressive. And I caught a couple nice saves in there, too,” he added.
“But when you shoot that kind of score around this golf course any day in the year, or any week, you’re putting well.”
Na had seven birdies and four bogeys in a roller-coaster round of 69.
“I got off to a poor start but I bounced back nicely,” Na said. “I’m playing very well, rolling it great. I think the key for me is going to be the driver, putting it in the fairway.”
Kuchar had a more consistent 68 with back-to-back birdies on the front and back nines.
“It’s fun to be back in position with a chance to win again,” he said.
American Harris English was fourth on 137 with Scotsman Martin Laird, South Korean Charlie Wi, Australian Adam Scott, American Jonathan Byrd and England’s Brian Davis sharing fifth on 138.
Laird suffered the greatest heartache, reaching 10-under par before a bogey-double bogey-bogey finish on the last three holes. He found water at the 16th and 17th.
“I’m glad it happened on a Friday and not on Sunday,” Laird said after a 73.
“I’ve just got to take out of it that I played the last three in four-over par and I’m still third. So I’m obviously playing some pretty good golf.”