Lee Westwood tries to peak for the biggest tournaments. And while he doesn’t put The Players Championship in his top five, it’s big enough that he is playing some of his best golf going into the weekend.
Westwood ran off three straight birdies to start his back nine on his way to a 7-under 65 to build a one-shot lead among the early starters Friday on another day of soft conditions.
“As you get older, it gets harder to peak all the time when you want to,” said Westwood, a 37-year-old Englishman. “You have to pick and choose your ones, and you want to play well in the biggest tournaments. And this is one of the biggest tournaments.”
Westwood was at 12-under 132. If nothing changed in the afternoon, it would be the lowest score to lead after 36 holes at The Players Championship since 1994, when Greg Norman was as at 14 under on his way to breaking the tournament scoring record.
Italy’s Francesco Molinari, who skipped the Italian Open to play this tournament, also had a 65 and was in second place with Japan’s Ryuji Imada, who made six birdies without a bogey in his round of 66.
Tiger Woods will be joining them on the weekend, which is about the only good news of his day. Woods scrambled for a 71, which included a double bogey after a tee shot that went 45 degrees to the right, and was nine shots behind.
The scoring is so low that Robert Allenby had a 70 to reach 8 under and shook his head as he saw the front page of the leaderboard, which was missing his name. Was it all that unusual?
“At this place? Yes,” he said. “Normally, 8 under is leading. But it’s because the conditions are super soft.”
That was the lone complaint, even among players who were in contention. Despite a few bursts of rain earlier in the week, the weather seems to suit hard, fast conditions. But north Florida had a harsh winter, and it has been difficult to grow grass.
“The greens are definitely softer than we’re used to, and I’d even say a little slower,” Lucas Glover said after a 65, his best score by a mile on this track. Glover had not shot better than 75 in his four previous trips to the TPC Sawgrass.
“This is the least amount of wind I remember here,” Glover said. “You’re going to see scores this afternoon, as well. It’s going to be a shootout.”
Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who opened with a 70, was among the late starters.
Woods has never missed consecutive cuts — he’s missed only six for his career — and it wasn’t until a solid back nine that he was secure for the weekend. He hit a drive into the trees on the par-5 11th hole and made bogey, then hit his 3-wood so far right on the 14th that it landed in the middle of a pond on the 12th hole.
But for every mistake came enough birdies to keep him around par, and he finished at 3-under 141.
“I wasn’t quite as sharp today as I was yesterday,” Woods said. “Got to keep plodding along on this golf course. Anything can happen.”
So far, about the only thing happening is low scores.