Harrington Takes Tenuous Lead

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Padraig Harrington is the leader heading into weekend play at The Players Championship. But you hear a bit of the Underdog attitude when you listen to him speak.
 
Im just as intimidated by an Ernie Els, a Phil Mickelson, Davis Lovejust as much as Tiger, Harrington said.
 
He wont have to worry about Els and Mickelson, who arent competing this week, but will have to contend with Love and probably Woods over the final two rounds.
 
Harrington stands at 9-under-par 135. Love, who won this event in 1992, is two back after a 67. Hes tied for second place with defending champion Craig Perks (69) and Skip Kendall (69).
 
Harrington, who was one of 68 players to finish his first round Friday morning, played 26 holes overall; first wrapping up a 5-under 67, and then following up with a 68.
 
Because of Thursdays rain postponement, the second round will also extend to another day. Darkness brought a halt to play at 6:44 PM ET. Twenty-seven players will have to complete their second rounds Saturday, starting at 8:30 AM.
 
The third round is scheduled to begin at 10:15.
 
Tiger Woods narrowly avoided the early morning wake-up call. He finished his round of 2-under 70 just before the siren sounded. He is at 2-under for the tournament.
 
Perks is trying to do what Tiger couldn't in 2002 -- become the first player in the tournaments 30-year history to successfully defend his title. He, too, had to complete his opening 18 in the morning, playing his final five holes in 3-under to tie Fred Couples for the official first-round lead, at 5-under.
 
He kept the momentum going early in round two, starting birdie-eagle. He then reeled off 13 straight pars before trading a bogey at 7 for a birdie at 8.
 
I just feel comfortable out here. Got a lot of good memories, he said. Obviously, something about this course agrees with me.
 
Despite being the reigning champion, the Kiwi, who has made some extensive swing changes since his lone PGA Tour victory, was given 1000-to-1 odds, by a national newspaper, to repeat. He said he doesnt feel slighted, and that respect is earned and not owed.
 
You get respect by winning, he said. Im still the defending champion, my flag is still flying out there and hopefully itll be that way Sunday evening.
 
Woods, who won in 2001, hovered around the cutline ' which is currently at even par ' for the first half of his round before securing his 101st consecutive cut made on tour.
 
Starting on the back nine, he was even par for the tournament until he birdied Nos. 2, 3 and 5. He closed, however, with a bogey at the par-3 eighth.
 
'I'm not going to analyze it. It's one of those rounds you just move onto the next,' he said.
 
Harrington defeated tournament host Woods in winning the unofficial Target World Challenge late last year. It was his first victory on American soil, and one that afforded him a bit of confidence.
 
But the six-time European Tour winner doesnt like to measure himself against his fellow competitors.
 
Im not looking at anybody else, said Harrington, who is ranked 10th in the world. Youve got to be really selfish about this and really focused on what youre doing.
 
And hes not just blowing smoke when he says that. Harrington, who owns a degree in accounting, keeps a tournament-by-tournament journal. He jots down performance notes so that he can later detail what he did well and what he needs to improve upon.
 
Im very motivated to get better, he said. If you try and stand still you go backwards. Everybody is improving out here so youve got to make the effort to improve.
 
Harrington believes hell need to better his play over the weekend in order to become just the second European-born player to win here (Sandy Lyle, 1987). Though he made 10 birdies to just two bogeys over his round and a half, he missed seven fairways and six greens in regulation while battling a nagging hip injury in his second round.
 
There wasnt much simplicity in that round of golf, he said before adding that he wasnt too surprised with the results.
 
I could go out there and play better and do worse score-wise, he said. Were told not to get upset about it so Im not going to feel surprised about maybe scoring a little bit better than I played.
 
The result very rarely matches up with how you play.
 
Love could say the same thing. Hes near the top of the leaderboard despite a double bogey at the 18th, his ninth hole of the second round. In danger of falling out of contention, Love birdied five-in-a-row, starting at the second.
 
I needed something like that to get me kick-started in this tournament, said Love, who played alongside Perks.
 
Love won this year at Pebble Beach, but a win this week would far surpass that victory. A win here would be counted as a major ' close to a major, he said. That was my goal this year, so keep myself in position and keep myself at the top of the leaderboard with chances to win.
 
Couples has a chance to join Jack Nicklaus as the only men to win this tournament on three occasions. The 1984 and 96 champion played 22 holes Friday. He was in sole possession of the lead, at 7-under, but made four bogeys and three birdies over his final 12 holes to shoot a second-round 71, and finish three off the pace.
 
It was easy a long time ago to be in contention every Saturday and Sunday, but now I know it might be hit or miss, said Couples, who has been working with Butch Harmon.
 
Can he win this week, for the first time on tour since the 1998 Memorial Tournament?
 
I dont think it would be that farfetched,' he said. 'Its probably a long way down the road, but if I keep working and doing this, I think I can get in the hunt.
 
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