A rivalry which was once hailed as the future of golf in the late 90s may resurface on the weekend at the 2013 Players Championship. Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods charged to the top of the leaderboard Friday morning at TPC Sawgrass, overtaking 18-hole leader Roberto Castrom who's out in the afternoon wave. Garcia, who's at 11-under, leads Woods by one shot with half the field still out on the course.
For Woods, the conditions were perfect to take aim at the pins and shape shots with his irons. While he plays it annually when healthy (and sometimes injured), this course is not a favorite of Tiger's, who won the event in 2001. He's been unable to contend since 2009, but this May, he entered the week in different form and with greater comfort in his Sean Foley-redesigned swing. Even with that improved game, Tiger talked about the tricky layout before the week and it was clear that this Pete Dye design is still not one he's especially comfortable with.
But through the first two rounds, there's been almost no wind and soft, receptive greens have created a vulnerable course and favorable scoring conditions. Tiger started on the back nine, which he began yesterday with three straight birdies. After carding his first bogey on the last hole on Thursday, he promptly got that shot back with a birdie on his opening hole on Friday. It was a perfect tee-to-green play and indicative of the kind of iron shots from Woods all day. He had only two bogeys, on Nos. 7 and 14, which were the result of wayward drives to start off the tee.
Tiger stuck his irons close to the hole on Nos. 12, 13, and 16 through 18 to go out in 34. He missed a birdie chance at the par-5 11th hole, but saved a disappointing par by getting up-and-down from the bunker. To make up for that missed opportunity, he played the next three par-5s in 4-under. Tiger blasted his drive down the middle at No. 16, and had only a mid-iron into the green. The approach shot went safely past the hole, and he narrowly missed an eagle putt to add to his early morning charge. He settled for birdie there but would convert the eagle on the next par-5, No. 2. Tiger put his second shot pin high and had 23 feet left for the eagle three. His putt never left the cup, and he started walking towards the hole shortly after he struck it. Video of the eagle that pushed into a share of the lead (via PGATour):
That eagle at No. 2 momentarily put him in a share of the lead at 9-under, but he'd take sole possession two holes later with a birdie on No. 4. Even if the Stadium Course has given Woods trouble, it's been his traditional route, dominating the par-5s, that he took to charge up the leaderboard through the first two days. A birdie on No. 9, his final hole of the day, put him at 8-under through his first eight par-5s this week. That's been the path to victory for Woods for most of his career, including this season. He won't have the lead at the midpoint, but after a TPC career-low 134 through two rounds, he's in prime position to pick up a second career Players Championship title.
At the moment, Woods is chasing Garcia, who shot a second round 65, a career low at Sawgrass, to get to 11-under. Sergio went nuts with the putter, draining lengthy putts on his inward nine to make six birdies in a seven-hole stretch. Like Woods, Garcia is a past winner here but it's not been the springboard to major championship success that some predicted. It looked like Woods would hold the midday lead on Friday, but Garcia's streak of birdies from Nos. 2 through 6 shot the Spaniard right to the top of the leaderboard. He canned a 30 footer on No. 8 to cap a 31 on his second nine. The putter has been the one club that's prevented Sergio from major titles, but if he's sinking them like he did on Friday, he'll be tough to beat this weekend.
There are still some big names, most notably Rory McIlroy, on the first page of the leaderboard with their second round still in front of them. But as the weekend approaches at Ponte Vedra, an old Garcia-Woods rivalry, and potential pairing, will headline Saturday at the game's "fifth major."
As the afternoon wave of tee times get on the course, here's a snapshot of the leaderboard from the morning:
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