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Garcia & Tiger Surge to Top of Players Championship


Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods have risen to the top of the leaderboard in the Players Championship. The $9.5 million, PGA Tour event, golf's so-called "fifth major," is taking place at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

The 33-year-old Garcia opened with a 4-under 68 and followed that up with a 7-under 65 Friday to reach 11-under 133 for the solo lead. Starting on the 10th tee, the Spaniard carded two birdies on his front nine and began his home half with a bogey on the par-4 first.

But from that point forward the eight-time Tour winner, whose previous victory came last August in the Wyndham Championship and who won the Players in 2008, really got rolling, carding five straight birdies. After a par on the seventh, he birdied the par-3 eighth and got a par on the par-5 ninth for a 5-under 31.

"Wonderful day today," Garcia told PGATour.com. "Yesterday I scored very well; I didn't play that great. But today, I played much nicer. Couple of tee shots here and there that I would have loved to hit a little better, but other than that, it was nice. I hit the ball very well, hit a lot of good iron shots and gave myself a lot of good birdie opportunities."

Woods was pretty good too. The No. 1-ranked player in the world fired his second straight 5-under 67 and is only a stroke behind Garcia heading into the weekend. After six birdies and a bogey Thursday Woods - also starting on the 10th - had three birdies and a bogey on the initial nine holes then added an eagle on the par-5 second, two birdies and a bogey (at No. 7). Woods, whose only title in the Players came in 2001, is seeking his fourth win of the year.

"It was nice out there early - relatively little wind and I took advantage of it," Woods said in a broadcast interview. "Then the wind picked up and the birdie opportunities were getting a little more difficult. They had some pretty good pins out there. These greens are getting to the point where they're a little fiery."

Woods added that he had a great time playing for the second straight day with defending champion Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker. "There was a lot of needling out there, and it wasn't just the players, the caddies were getting into it too."

Tied for third at 9-under 135 are Kevin Chappell (66), Lee Westwood (66) and Sweden's Henrik Stenson (67).

Starting on the 10th tee, Westwood got going quickly, with an eagle on the par-5 11th (his second) and then two birdies in a row. The 40-year-old Englishman, who moved his family to Florida over the winter, birdied the 18th to make the turn in 5-under 31.

On the second nine, the 22-time European Tour winner, who also has two titles in the States, tacked on another birdie. Westwood thinks the course will change for the final two rounds as he expects the Tour to toughen up Sawgrass. "They seem to let you have a bit of a go at it over the first couple of days and then they firm it up a lot come the weekend," he told PGATour.com. "Certainly tomorrow teeing off at 2 (o'clock), it will be as firm as it's ever been all week. So a lot of patience is involved there.

"It will be sort of like a major-championship-style mentality to go out there and play disciplined golf and not attack flags when they shouldn't be attacked and try to hit a lot of fairways, so you have a lot of control on your second shot. No, I enjoy that kind of golf. It's very rewarding if you play well."

Ryan Palmer and Casey Wittenberg both posted 69s to share sixth at 136 with Sweden's David Lingmerth (68), while another stroke back are Kuchar (66), Hunter Mahan (70), current Masters champion Adam Scott (68) and Zach Johnson (71).

Kuchar has a nice vibe going at Sawgrass and hopes it continues in the last two rounds. "I think past champions always have a good feeling around a course they've won on, and that certainly helps out," he told PGATour.com.

After carding three birdies on his front nine (Nos. 10-18), Johnson, the 2007 Masters winner, could only manage two bogeys coming in.

Seven players are tied for 13th at 138. The group includes former U.S. Open champions Webb Simpson (71) and Rory McIlroy (71), Jason Dufner (67), Charles Howell III (67), Marc Leishman (66), Martin Laird (67) and Steve Stricker (71). Four others - Chris Kirk, Sang-Moon Bae, Jerry Kelly and Kevin Streelman - are at 139.

First-round leader Robert Castro, who matched the course and tournament's all-time scoring record set by Fred Couples and Greg Norman in 1992 and 1994 with a 9-under 63 Thursday, went in the other direction in the second round with a 6-over 78.

After going bogey-free in the opening round to forge a three-stroke lead, the 27-year Texan had his only birdie on the second hole and it was all downhill from there as he carded five bogeys and a double on the par-4 12th before closing with six straight pars for a 15-stroke swing over two days.

Still, at 3-under par through 36 holes, Castro made the cut at even-par 144. "Kind of a loose short game on the front, and then I kind of settled down," he told PGATour.com. "It was nice to finish with six really solid holes.

"Obviously, the Players Championship is huge all over the world, so it's exciting. It's a good place to be. I've played plenty of Friday rounds, three or four outside the cut, and that's no fun, you know. Today was fun."

Among those also playing this weekend are Jason Dufner (67), 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson (71) and Rory McIlroy (72) - all at 6-under 138; Snedeker (69) at 139; Luke Donald (69) at 141; Charl Schwartzel (71) and Bubba Watson (70) at 143; and major champions Padraig Harrington (76), Justin Leonard (74), Louis Oosthuizen (75) and Angel Cabrera (70), all at 144.

Vijay Singh, who caused an uproar Wednesday when he filed a lawsuit in New York against the PGA Tour, claiming the organization exposed him to "public humiliation and ridicule" during its 12-week investigation into his admitted use of deer-antler spray, opened with a 2-over 74.

Although rebounding with a 71 Friday, the 50-year-old Fijian and World Golf Hall of Fame member still missed the cut at 145. Heading home are fellow major winners Phil Mickelson (73), Jim Furyk (73), Graeme McDowell (76), Ernie Els (73), Keegan Bradley (77), Stewart Cink (73), David Toms (70), Lucas Glover (76) and Geoff Ogilvy (74).

Also not making the cut are the past two Tour winners - Billy Horschel (Zurich Classic of New Orleans) and Derek Ernst (Wells Fargo Championship last week), who posted rounds of 71 and 81, respectively, Friday.

Friday's highest scores were 10-over 82s by George McNeill and Greg Owen.

The shot of the day came from Leishman when the Aussie's holed out his approach from 172 yards on the par-4 18th en route to a 66 and a 138 total. He's the fourth player to eagle the closing hole at Sawgrass. The third time came Thursday when Dufner, from 158 yards, did the same thing.

Dustin Johnson and Colt Knost joined Retief Goosen on the WD list. Citing a back injury, Johnson, who opened with a 74, left before the start of the first round. Knost opened with a 79.

For updated scores, visit http://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html. .