PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Sergio Garcia had one of those stretches where it felt like every putt was going to drop. He needed every one of them Friday for a 7-under-par 65 to match his best score on the TPC Sawgrass and take a one-shot lead over Tiger Woods at The Players Championship.
Next up is Woods and Garcia in the final group on the weekend, which is sure to add even more attention to the stage that is Sawgrass.
Garcia didn’t miss a fairway and putted for birdie on every hole on the back nine but wasn’t gaining any ground. That changed on the front nine, when he made seven straight putts — five of them from about 15 feet or longer — to race by Woods.
“When you start going like that, obviously it feels great,” said Garcia, who was at 11-under 133. “Everything seems kind of clearer in your head. You seem to see the break. You seem to feel like everything is a little bit easier, a little bit smoother, and you hit the putt and it manages to go in. If it was easy, we would have plenty of those, but it’s not. Enjoy them while you have them.”
Woods looks like he’s having a good time on the course that has vexed him more than any other on the PGA Tour, and he could be the greater threat on the weekend. Already a three-time winner this year on tour, Woods has rarely put himself in trouble and had his second straight 67.
Woods was at 134, his best 36-hole total by six shots at this tournament, including the year he won.
He tied for the lead with a 5-wood into 20 feet for eagle on the par-5 second hole, then took the lead alone with a short birdie on the fourth. But it didn’t last long: Garcia, playing in the group ahead of him, ran off five straight birdies, finishing that stretch with a 20-foot putt on No. 5 and a 25-footer on No. 6.
Woods and Garcia have played together on big stages — Bethpage Black, Royal Liverpool — with a big edge for Woods. They first were linked when the Spaniard was 19 and gave Woods all he could handle at Medinah in the 1999 PGA Championship. They were paired in the final round of the 2002 U.S. Open and 2006 British Open, both won by Woods.
Asked about playing with Woods on Saturday, Garcia said he wouldn’t see it as anything but another round of golf.
“I don’t have to measure myself against anybody,” he said. “I know what I want to try to do, and any given day I can shoot a round like this and any other day he can shoot a good round and beat me.”
But with the tournament only halfway over, this is far more than a duel between Woods and Garcia.
The 18 players within five shots of the lead include three current major champions — Adam Scott, Webb Simpson and Rory McIlroy — along with Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson.
Westwood chipped in from 100 feet for eagle on the 11th hole and was atop the leader board until making pars on his last eight holes. He had a 66 and was two shots behind, along with Kevin Chappell (66) and Stenson, who had two eagles on the front nine in his round of 67.
Ryan Palmer, who learned Thursday night that one of his best friends died in a car accident in San Antonio, had two eagles in a round of 69 and was three shots behind. Defending champion Matt Kuchar birdied three of his last four holes for a 66 and was at 7-under 137, along with Scott, Mahan and Johnson.