Sergio, Tiger set for Saturday showdown


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Amid another day of sunny skies and relatively calm conditions, several players were able to again get the better of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, as even-par 144 was the minimum required to make the weekend. Here’s how things shape up heading into the third round of The Players Championship, where a pair of former winners occupy the first two spots on the leaderboard:

The leaderboard: Sergio Garcia (-11), Tiger Woods (-10), Lee Westwood (-9), Henrik Stenson (-9), Kevin Chappell (-9), David Lingmerth (-9), Ryan Palmer (-8), Casey Wittenberg (-8)

What it means: Five years after he hoisted the crystal trophy, Garcia again finds himself out in front at TPC Sawgrass after a birdie barrage in the second round. He’ll be joined in the final group Saturday by Woods, who carded a 5-under 67 for the second consecutive day and who holds a distinct historical advantage over the Spaniard in the instances where the two have been paired together. In total, 12 players head into the weekend within four shots of the lead.

Round of the day: Beginning on the back nine, Garcia started slowly with six straight pars. From there, though, he heated up. Birdies at 16 and 18 were followed by a bogey at the first, but the Spaniard then reeled off five birdies in a row from holes 2-6 and added a 40-foot birdie on the par-3 eighth hole for good measure. Already the all-time career earnings leader in this event, Garcia now enters the third round in sole possession of the lead after a 7-under 65, tying his final-round effort in 2011 for his lowest round carded in 50 career rounds at the Stadium Course.

Best of the rest: Of the four players to shoot 66 Friday, only Westwood did so without dropping a single shot. The Englishman began his day in impressive fashion, holing a pitch shot for eagle at the par-5 11th, and added birdies at both 12 and 13. A leader after both 36 and 54 holes at this event in 2010, Westwood in fact has yet to drop a shot in either round thus far this week, and now begins the weekend firmly in contention at 9 under, just two shots off the pace.

Biggest disappointment: After making the cut in this event each of the last 11 years, Phil Mickelson saw his streak come to an abrupt halt after a 1-over 73 Friday. A winner here in 2007, Mickelson was never able to get out of the gate this week and reached just seven of 18 greens in regulation during the second round. He appeared likely to survive the 36-hole cut, but a pair of bogeys across his final three holes took Mickelson one shot outside the number, and he will sit out the weekend for just the second time this season.

Main storyline heading into Saturday: Images of Medinah ’99 and Bethpage ’02 will be rekindled, as Garcia and Woods will find themselves together in the day’s final pairing. While Garcia is staked to a slim lead, Woods appears largely in control, displaying the tee-to-green prowess and par-5 scoring that have become trademarks of dozens of wins across his illustrious career. No shortage of strong names are nipping at their heels, though, including former world No. 1 Westwood, defending champion Matt Kuchar and reigning Masters champ Adam Scott.

Shot of the day: Entering the week, just two players had ever recorded an eagle 2 at the Stadium Course’s 18th hole – a figure that has already been equaled through two rounds. A day after Jason Dufner holed out for an improbable deuce, Marc Leishman followed suit Friday en route to a 6-under 66. Leishman, who contended last month at the Masters, struck a mammoth pitching wedge from 172 yards at the home hole, landing softly near the front-right pin before trickling into the hole.

Quote of the day: 'Even though I haven’t played well in the past, I’ve still won here … I know how to get around this golf course.” – Woods, who claimed both the 2001 Players and 1994 U.S. Amateur at the Stadium Course.