Kevin Sutherland took advantage of calm conditions early yesterday to take the lead at the Players Championship, while the struggling Tiger Woods got off to a good start in his quest to make the cut.
Sutherland shot a three-under-par 69 to finish the second round at nine-under, two ahead of Ernie Els, who also shot 69, and three ahead of Vijay Singh, who shot 68.
The first-round leader, Adam Scott, and Woods had tee times in the afternoon, when conditions on the Stadium Course traditionally get more difficult. But Woods came out playing well. Starting on the back nine, Woods made an eagle on the par-five 11th hole to go to one over, which was the projected cut line with about half the field still on the course. Woods has made a tour-record 119 straight cuts.
Scott, the 23-year-old Australian, shot a seven-under-par 65 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round. That was 10 strokes ahead of Woods, who stood in 108th place. "I didn't think I played that poorly," Woods said after his round on Thursday. "I made nothing starting out. I put myself in position to make putts and I made nothing."
Scott, meanwhile, had a very different experience. Playing in the group ahead of Woods, Scott put on a show reminiscent of Tiger. Taking advantage of good conditions in the morning, the Australian made six of his birdies from inside six feet. "Any morning tee time you've got in the first two days, it's always good to take advantage of it," Scott said.
Woods was 46th at Bay Hill last week, his worst finish in five years. But as is customary with the world's No 1 player, he was thinking more about winning the event than failing to hang around for the weekend. "If I get in red figures, I'll be all right," he said.
Also in danger of missing the cut was the defending champion Davis Love. He strained his back while warming up on the driving range and finished at five-over, a far cry from last year when he won by six strokes.
"I'd like to get out there, get five birdies in a row like I did last year," he said. "If you can get to even-par before the weekend, you might have a chance." Scott, who stands 18th in the world rankings and has won four times in non-PGA Tour events, works with Butch Harmon, the well-known swing instructor with whom Woods cut ties last year. Woods claims he does not need Harmon, although there are many who think his recent struggles could be cured with Harmon's touch.
Woods appeared to be struggling on the 17th, the famous island hole, where he overshot the green and into the black lagoon. Surprisingly, Woods said that was his best swing of the day. "That's what happens when you catch the wrong wind," he said.
Scott had no such troubles, patiently working his way around one of the toughest courses in golf. His only bogey came from the middle of the fairway on the 15th, when he hit a wedge into the bunker, but he closed with birdies on the 16th and 18th and found land on the 17th to make par.
"I've worked on my game a lot," he said. "My swing is better than it's ever been, I think. I think I'm getting it in really good positions, and it feels really natural."