JERSEY CITY, N.J.-Tiger Woods walked quickly through the clubhouse, surrounded by three security people, and went directly to his SUV. After his caddie, Steve Williams, joined him out there in the gravel parking lot, Woods took a moment to change his shoes (like any weekend golfer), then closed the door and drove off.
Essentially, what both players were saying was that they're leaving The Barclays to the field. It is someone else's tournament to control now, perhaps second-round leader Webb Simpson, a PGA Tour rookie who is 8 under par. Or possibly Paul Goydos or Steve Marino (6 under).
In any case, the Tour event that is being held as close as possible to Broadway probably cannot rely on its headliners. Woods had another dyspeptic, lackluster round at Liberty National, a 1-over par 72 that left him at par through 36 holes. For a second consecutive day, he left without speaking to the media.
Mickelson was even worse, shooting 75 in the morning tempest-"You know, it's always beautiful weather here in New York," he said, recalling the mess at Bethpage - to finish at 3 over par.
It would take quite a charge by either of them to contend and neither looked as if he had a charge in him. For anyone who had hoped the first of four FedEx Cup playoff events would cash in on cachet, Friday was really a gray day. The weather was bad, too.
"I actually liked it, just because I knew that even par would be a really good score," said Simpson, who played in the more benign afternoon.
Three-under par 68 is an even better score, and Simpson shot it, tying Ernie Els for the best round of the day. "My stats would show that I haven't been a very good bad-weather player," Simpson said, "but was pretty rough this year and I played well there. Maybe I'm just getting better at it and I don't know it."
Simpson, 24, is a quick study. Last spring, he still was a religion major at Wake Forest. Last summer, he was on the Nationwide Tour. Last fall, he won his PGA Tour card. On Friday, he held his first PGA Tour lead. "I couldn't have picked a better time to be playing well, here in the playoffs," he said. "I'm sure a lot of emotions will be going through my head tomorrow, but I'm a big believer in prayer and so I'll go to bed saying a few prayers."
The steepest learning curve, perhaps, was in discovering how not to be in awe. "The first couple of events, I walk into the locker room and I see these guys I watched my whole life," he said. "I've been telling myself this whole year that they are just people, too. They are just good at golf and they have been doing it for a long time."
Two of them in particular weren't as good at golf Friday as Simpson.
Notes & quotes: Els (2 under) drove the green on the 16th and made an 8-foot eagle putt. From the left rough on 18, he drilled a laser-like 4-iron onto the green that led to a par. The shot was low, the noise level was high. "They loved it," Els said. "They had had a couple of beers. I said to them that I would probably be in the same shape as them if I was a spectator."
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