Harrington scrambles into weekend, as McIlroy stalls

Sergio Garcia leads after a 65, with Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood in pursuit at Sawgrass

Spain’s Sergio Garcia shot a 65 at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Photograph: Chris Keane/Reuters

Spain’s Sergio Garcia shot a 65 at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Photograph: Chris Keane/Reuters


Nothing is straightforward for Pádraig Harrington these days. The three-time Major champion survived into the final two rounds of the Players championship by the skin of his teeth, after a double-bogey five on his penultimate hole – where he splashed his tee-shot to the par-three eighth hole into a pond some 54 yards short of the green – threatened to bring a premature end to his interest in golf’s unofficial ‘fifth’ Major.

Although signing for a second round 76 to add to his opening 68 for a midway total of level-par 144, the Dubliner, continuing to use a belly putter, survived on the cut line in a tournament where Sergio Garcia assumed the 36-hole clubhouse lead with a scintillating display with his irons and putter.

Garcia, a winner over the Pete Dye-designed course in 2008 for arguably the best individual win of his career, shot a second round 65 for 133, seven under, that gave him a one-shot lead over world number one Tiger Woods.

“Everything seems kind of clearer in your head when you’re putting well, you seem to see the break,” said Garcia, who used a birdie on the 16th, his seventh, to spur him on. Indeed, he had a run of five successive birdies from the second to the sixth.

“You seem to feel like everything is a little bit easier, a little bit smoother and you hit the putt and it goes in. It’s good to enjoy them. Unfortunately, if it was easy, we would have plenty of those. But it’s not. You enjoy them while you have them.”

Garcia’s golden run started with a 14-footer on the second and he followed with successful birdie putts of seven, eight, 19 and 26 feet as he charged through the field to the top of the leaderboard.

‘Game is good’
Without a win since last season’s Wyndham Championship, Garcia remarked: “(This event) means a lot, it’s the Players, it’s our tournament and I have had the honour of winning it before. It’s one of my favourite golf courses and that usually helps. I feel like the game is good, maybe not spectacular, but I have had a pretty consistent year this year. If I manage to get as many wins as possible, it will be great.”

Woods, with only one top-10 finish in the event since his only Players win in 2001, shot a second consecutive 67 to move within a shot of Garcia. “Even though, over the years, I haven’t played my best here, I’ve still won here. Twice, technically,” said Woods, referring to that Players win and his 1994 US Amateur.

“I know how to get around this golf course. This course, more than most, really tests every facet of your game. You have to drive the ball well. You have to hit your irons in correct spots . . . it’s about trying to manage the ball in the correct spots, (and) I’ve done that the first two days.”

Lee Westwood also moved into contention with a 67 for 135, two off Garcia’s lead, but it proved to be a tougher day for Rory McIlroy who shot a second-round 72 for 138, leaving him six under, five shots adrift of Garcia.

Defending champion Matt Kuchar shot a second round 66 to leapfrog up the board, moving to 137 (seven under) at the midpoint.

Among those who missed the cut were Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Vijay Singh. Dustin Johnson, meanwhile, withdrew prior to the second round due to illness.