Cejka opens the lead at Players - COPIED

By Doug FergusonMay 8, 2009, 4:00 pm
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The PlayersPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. ' Alex Cejka ran off three straight birdies Friday morning and kept right on going, shooting 5-under 67 to build a four-shot lead midway through the second round of The Players Championship.
Tiger Woods was among the late starters in steaming conditions at the TPC Sawgrass, but perhaps the most daunting sight was seeing the 38-year-old Cejka at 11-under 133 and no one particularly close.
Kevin Na, who played with Cejka before no more than a few dozen people most of the round, tried to make up ground and had a 66 to finish in the group at 7-under 137, along with Jason Dufner (70) and Masters champion Angel Cabrera, who had a 65.
It was surprising to see Cejka atop the leaderboard, and he would be the first to concede that. Still recovering from surgery to replace a disk in his neck last year, he felt numbness in his right arm and had an epidural last week to regain some feeling.
Then again, numbness isnt a bad way to go around a scary course like Sawgrass.
Im pretty excited to sit here two days in a row, Cejka said.
Phil Mickelson was hopeful to be playing for two more days. He struggled with his putting most of the round and shot a 1-under 71, making birdie on his final hole to finish at even-par 144, right on the bubble for making the cut.
You never want to give up here, because too many things can happen on this golf course, Mickelson said.
Cejka first joined the PGA Tour in 2003, a year after his last official victory, at the Lancome Trophy on the European Tour.
Few players faced such a peculiar journey to become a touring pro.
Born in Czechoslovakia, he was 9 when he fled communism and traveled through four countries before settling in Germany, not known as fertile soil for golf. But he took interest in the game, especially after watching Bernhard Langer win the Masters in 1985.
Among his victories in Europe was the prestigious Volvo Masters, so Cejka knows he can handle the pressure. The greater concern has been his health, especially the scary moments of losing feeling in his arm.
He first injured his neck while lifting luggage at the British Open last year, and it got so bad that he had surgery to insert a titanium plate between the fifth and sixth vertebrae in his neck. He showed off the small scar at the front of his neck, where doctors made the incision to avoid cutting through muscles in the back.
After the surgery, everything was fine until I woke up one day and it was just number. It was just inflamed, irritated, he said. So that was kind of a shock for me. Ive been recovering pretty well so far. They think its going to take a couple weeks, a couple months. Nerves dont heal that well.
Despite clear skies and temperatures headed for the 90s late in the afternoon, the crowds were sparser than usual, especially around Cejka, in the second tee time of the day. When he got up-and-down for birdie on the second hole, there were 14 spectators around the green, along with 13 marshals.
It felt like a Monday afternoon practice round, Cejka said. Ive never seen it actually that empty here over the past years. But it was kind of nice. We were just walking and talking and making good shots. But I think its going to change on the weekend.
Cabreras even-par 72 in the opening round featured eagles, birdies and triple bogeys, but the big Argentine finally got the driver straightened out and had a much easier time Friday.
The putter has been behaving, too. Cabrera has taken only 52 putts through two rounds.
It really comes down to the tee shots, he said through a PGA Tour interpreter. Yesterday, I just wasnt getting it off the tee in the appropriate spots. Today I did that well, and youll see the difference in my score.
Ben Crane, the first-round leader, had a 73 and was at 138, followed by a large group at 5-under 139 that included Camilo Villegas (72), Paul Casey (69), Robert Allenby (66) and Kevin Sutherland (67).

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