Patrick Cantlay and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel were tied for the lead at 10-under par following the morning wave of play during the second round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on Friday.
Chesson Hadley reached 12 under before putting his tee shot in the water on the famed par-13 17th hole. He finished double bogey, bogey to drop into third place at 9-under as the rest of the leaders began to tee off in the afternoon wave.
Jason Day, already a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this season who has climbed back to No. 7 in the world golf rankings, shot a 5-under 67 on Friday. He finished his second round at 8 under and was in a four-way tie with 51-year-old Steve Strick, Webb Simpson and reigning Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia, the 2008 Players champion, and Matt Kuchar were among a group of four players another shot back at 7 under. No. 3-ranked Jon Rahm, who can surpass Dustin Johnson for No. 1 this week, is in a pack at 6 under along with Sweden’s Henrik Stenson. Another two shots back is Masters champion Patrick Reed.
Waiting to see if he will reach the weekend is Tiger Woods, who carded a 1-under 71 on Friday and finished his second round right on the 1-under cut line. He fared better than playing partners Rickie Fowler (1 over) and Phil Mickelson (8 over), who will not make the cut. Also missing from the weekend will be Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama (4 over) despite a 3-under 69 on Friday.
Schwartzel, who has never finished better than 26th in seven previous appearances, shot the low round of the morning wave with his 6-under 66. He hit 16 of 18 greens in posting his lowest score ever at TPC Sawgrass.
“I played probably the best golf I’ve played here,” Schwartzel told the Golf Channel. “I’ve been playing well since the back nine of New Orleans (Zurich Classic) on Friday. It just sort of clicked in and I’ve just been playing a lot better than I have been for the last few months.”
Schwartzel reached No. 17 in the world golf rankings despite missing the cut at The Players last year. However, poor play at the beginning of this season dropped him to 62nd entering the week despite a tie for ninth at the Wells Fargo Championship last week.
“Sort of October, November last year, I was just swinging the club really badly,” Schwartzel said. “I fixed it up and my plane is a lot better, so it’s a lot easier for me to deliver the club more consistently. The swing now feels a lot more effortless.
“I’m feeling really good out there on the golf course. Just trying to do the same that I’ve been doing. If I can keep playing this sort of golf, we can have a good chance.”
Meanwhile, Hadley was undeterred by his double/bogey finish. A former “can’t miss’ amateur who was the Tour’s Rookie of the Year in 2013-14, Hadley lost his card and had to play his way back onto the Tour through the Web.com Tour last season.
“It was a great day,” Hadley told the Golf Channel. “I played solid. I finished double/bogey, which is never how you want to finish, but those are two hard golf holes. I didn’t feel like I hit that bad of a shot on 17. I definitely didn’t hit it how I wanted to, but I thought for sure it would be on that front half of the green and I would just putt up there. But didn’t get over the front edge, so we had to drop and hit another.
“But I’m very pleased with the way I’ve played so far. I’ve made a bunch of birdies and I’m putting well, and I feel like I’m in control of my game. It’s hard to ask for anything more than that.”
Hadley won twice on the Web.com Tour last year to regain his card and has already posted six top 10s this season. He is also fond of Pete Dye-designed courses, having won the Web.com Tour Championship at the TPC Sawgrass Valley course in 2013 to earn his card for the first time.
“I’ve got good memories here obviously, on the other course,” he said. “I’ve had some good rounds on the Stadium course as well. I’m just very thankful to be here. You look where I was this time last year, it’s certainly a big difference in my game, and obviously where we are, so very thankful, very thrilled to be here.”
So what does Hadley need to do to remain in contention late on Sunday?
“I just need to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “Some of the times where I’ve been in contention, I haven’t exactly executed in what I needed to execute. That’s it. Let’s say I need to execute tomorrow … and Sunday.”
NOTES: Si Woo Kim’s 67 on Thursday was the lowest opening round by a defending champion at TPC Sawgrass. No player has ever repeated as the Players champion. … Sean O’Hair withdrew for an undisclosed reason after shooting a 7-over 79 in the first round. He was tied for 139th place.
–Field Level Media