PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - Webb Simpson matched the course record of nine-under-par 63 at TPC Sawgrass on Friday, despite suffering a late double-bogey, to open up a five-shot lead on 15-under at the halfway point of the Players Championship.
Patrick Cantlay (68), South African Charl Schwartzel and New Zealander Danny Lee (both 66) were a distant second on 10-under, while Tiger Woods (71), at one-under 143, made the cut with nothing to spare, as did Jordan Spieth (68) and Justin Thomas (70).
Simpson was on the verge of smashing the course record after reeling off six straight birdies but came to grief at the island-green par-three 17th.
After some indecision on the tee he pushed his shot right and his ball took a huge bounce off a railway sleeper and ended up in the water.
“I was in-between clubs,” he said. “I tried to smash a sand wedge and blocked it a little bit. It’s a bit of a bummer.”
Still, the 2012 U.S. Open champion could hardly complain after equalling the 63 previously shot by Fred Couples, Greg Norman, Robert Castro, Martin Kaymer, Jason Day and Colt Knost.
Simpson found his birdie streak from the 11th hole almost amusing.
“You start just kind of laughing,” said Simpson, whose halfway score of 15-under 129 matched the tournament record set by Jason Day two years ago.
“Everything is going in. You feel like no matter what, you’re going to make it, and I grew up on an easy golf course, so it reminded me of being back home, shooting low numbers.
“It’s rare as a golfer where everything is working well, driving, iron play, chipping and putting, and today everything came together.
“But at the same time you’re at TPC Sawgrass, so you know that trouble is everywhere, as you guys saw with me on 17.”
Woods said he could not quite get it together on a day when birdies were there to be had.
“I didn’t quite swing it right today, and I didn’t quite have the shape, ball flight,” said the 14-times major champion.
“With these greens as soft as they are, I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities I had today to really shoot a good number.”
Woods at least fared better than four-times major champion Rory McIlroy (74), who found the water for a double-bogey at the 17th and missed the cut by two strokes.
Schwartzel, without a top-25 finish in seven starts at the tournament, said all facets of his game had been strong, and that he had started playing better since receiving some recent advice from compatriot Louis Oosthuizen to focus on swing tempo.
“If I can keep the right tempo going, I’m going to keep hitting good shots,” said the 33-year-old, who has won only twice in 173 starts on the PGA Tour, most significantly the 2011 U.S. Masters.
Once ranked as high as sixth in the world, Schwartzel has dropped to 62nd after an indifferent couple of seasons.
“My last two years, maybe even two and a half years, have been pretty frustrating,” he said, adding that he was now using an instructor for the first time in his career.
Editing by Ken Ferris/Peter Rutherford