Rory McIlroy blazes his way to share of lead after Sawgrass 65

Eagle at the 16th helps Northern Irish golfer tie Tommy Fleetwood at top of the leaderboard

 Rory McIlroy rolls home an  eagle on the 16th green during the second round of The Players Championship on The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass  in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy rolls home an eagle on the 16th green during the second round of The Players Championship on The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

 

The only disappointment is that the blue-chip Sawgrass scenario arrives a day early. Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy will take to the third round of the Players Championship tied for the lead at 12 under par in the kind of scene the PGA Tour would be delighted to see rumble into Sunday. Golf needs marquee match-ups such as this.

An inspired back nine of 31 by McIlroy, which included an eagle three at the 16th and a birdie putt from 29 feet a hole later, saw him claw back Fleetwood from a seemingly untouchable position. The Northern Irishman’s Friday 65 meant he tied his best 36-hole aggregate to par in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event. On the other three occasions McIlroy has reached minus 12 after two days the prize has been his on Sunday.

Fleetwood had started day two in inspired form. Having birdied the 1st, he holed out from a bunker for an eagle at the par-five second. The Southport man duly collected another shot at the third. Brakes were later applied to an extent but Fleetwood’s birdie at the last sent him homeward in fine spirits. Afterwards he acknowledged the “strange coincidence” of no Englishman having won the Players title. Fleetwood was completing media duties as McIlroy reined him in.

It is no shock to see Ian Poulter among the key contenders here. A tie for second at the Players of 2017 kick-started Poulter’s career; he has barely looked back since. A 66, marred only by a closing bogey, moved him to nine under. Poulter has Brian Harman, Abraham Ancer and Jim Furyk for company there; that group is closest to Fleetwood and McIlroy.

Tiger Woods could have well done without his little piece of history. The 14-times Major winner had not scored more than a double-bogey five at Sawgrass’ iconic 17th before Friday. Two short irons into water triggered a seven; Woods slid from tied eighth to a share of 57th within the space of 10 minutes.

If this scene rather punctured what had become an expectant atmosphere around Woods – he reached the 17th, his eighth, at three under par for his round – his response was as formidable as it was typical. The 43-year-old did not drop another shot before signing for a 71. His three under par total means survival for the weekend, comfortably.

“I was pretty ticked, no doubt about that,” Woods admitted of his post-17th emotion. “I was bound and determined to get it all back and get it back to five under. I thought that would have been a hell of a fight. I ended up getting back to three, still it was a good fight to get to that point. I just need to go out there and put it together this weekend, because right now literally anybody who makes the cut has got a chance to win this tournament.”

Woods’s first shot into the 17th was perhaps unlucky, with the ball tantalisingly close to hanging on to dry land. His next attempt, from the drop zone, was a woeful effort. Entering this week Woods had played four balls into the 17th pond in career visits, a number duly increased by 50 per cent. This marks his 18th Sawgrass appearance.

“I’m very happy with the way I’ve been grinding around this golf course,” he added. “Other than 17 today, I really haven’t done a whole lot wrong.”

Jason Day, who withdrew from last weekend’s Arnold Palmer Invitational after six holes because of a back problem, continues to show no lasting effects. The Australian’s 66 moved him firmly into contention at eight under.

Séamus Power made the weekend despite making a double-bogey on his opening hole, the 10th, to slip out to four over.

He rescued a lost cause by recording eight birdies and a single bogey for the rest of his round, a five-under 67 moving him to three under and well inside the cut mark.

Shane Lowry missed the cut after he finished with a double bogey in a two-over 74 that pushed him back to three over.

LEADERBOARD
(USA unless stated, par 72)

132 Rory McIlroy (N Irl) 67 65, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 65 67

135 Abraham Ancer (Mex) 69 66, Jim Furyk 71 64, Ian Poulter (Eng) 69 66, Brian Harman 66 69

136 Jason Day (Aus) 70 66, Keith Mitchell 71 65, Kevin Kisner 68 68

137 Dustin Johnson 69 68, JT Poston 68 69, Luke List 69 68, Rory Sabbatini (Svk) 68 69, Vaughn Taylor 67 70, Jon Rahm (Esp) 69 68, Byeong-Hun An (Kor) 66 71

138 Keegan Bradley 65 73, Russell Knox (Sco) 70 68, Patrick Reed 69 69

139 Bud Cauley 69 70, Adam Scott (Aus) 70 69, Sung Kang (Kor) 73 66, Matt Kuchar 69 70, Charles Howell III 69 70, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 70 69, Sergio Garcia (Esp) 69 70, Bryson DeChambeau 70 69, Billy Horschel 69 70

140 Lucas Bjerregaard (Den) 70 70, Martin Kaymer (Ger) 71 69, Tom Hoge 69 71, Webb Simpson 70 70, Joel Dahmen 69 71, Tony Finau 69 71, Michael Thompson 69 71, Justin Rose (Eng) 74 66, Eddie Pepperell (Eng) 72 68, Brice Garnett 71 69

141 Tiger Woods 70 71, Jason Kokrak 73 68, Andrew Landry 73 68, Gary Woodland 72 69, Séamus Power (Irl) 74 67, Si Woo Kim (Kor) 73 68, Scott Langley 69 72, Ollie Schniederjans 71 70, Rickie Fowler 74 67, Anirban Lahiri (Ind) 70 71, Kevin Na 71 70, Denny McCarthy 69 72, Patton Kizzire 71 70, Jhonattan Vegas (Ven) 72 69, Brandt Snedeker 69 72, Tyler Duncan 70 71, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 70 71, Ryan Moore 67 74

142 Francesco Molinari (Ita) 72 70, Matt Wallace (Eng) 69 73, Scott Piercy 74 68, Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 70 72, Cameron Smith (Aus) 72 70, Cheng-Tsung Pan (Tai) 72 70, Patrick Rodgers 72 70, Martin Trainer 73 69, Nick Taylor (Can) 73 69, Corey Conners (Can) 72 70

143 Chris Kirk 74 69, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 71 72, Jason Dufner 70 73, Brian Gay 76 67, Branden Grace (Rsa) 73 70, Bubba Watson 72 71, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 73 70, Kelly Kraft 73 70, Richy Werenski 72 71, Daniel Berger 75 68, Brooks Koepka 72 71, Justin Thomas 71 72, Adam Long 71 72, Jimmy Walker 75 68

MISSED CUT

144 Scott Stallings 71 73, Xander Schauffele 70 74, Kyle Stanley 68 76, Beau Hossler 70 74, Kevin Streelman 73 71, Haotong Li (Chn) 69 75, Trey Mullinax 69 75, Brendan Steele 68 76, Marc Leishman (Aus) 71 73, Troy Merritt 71 73, Sungjae Im (Kor) 73 71, 145 Nick Watney 70 75, Sam Ryder 74 71, Aaron Wise 71 74, Ryan Palmer 71 74, Chez Reavie 71 74, J.B. Holmes 73 72 Russell Henley 73 72, Dominic Bozzelli 74 71, Henrik Stenson (Swe) 75 70, Jordan Spieth 76 69

146 Brian Stuard 75 71, Alex Noren (Swe) 70 76 Patrick Cantlay 75 71, Chesson Hadley 76 70, Harris English 70 76, Alex Cejka (Ger) 73 73, Ryan Blaum 71 75, Martin Laird (Sco) 76 70, Ryan Armour 72 74

147 Peter Uihlein 72 75, Talor Gooch 72 75, Austin Cook 72 75, Shane Lowry (Irl) 73 74, Stewart Cink 77 70

148 Scott Brown 75 73, Lucas Glover 76 72, Danny Willett (Eng) 75 73, Sam Saunders 75 73, Phil Mickelson 74 74, Aaron Baddeley (Aus) 75 73, Ted Potter, Jr. 74 74, Tyrrell Hatton (Eng) 74 74, Kevin Tway 76 72

149 Vijay Singh (Fij) 73 76, Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) 75 74, Bronson Burgoon 73 76

150 Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn) 74 76, Grayson Murray 72 78, Harold Varner III 74 76, Zach Johnson 73 77, John Huh 74 76, Brandon Harkins 69 81

151 Andrew Putnam 76 75, Adam Hadwin (Can) 76 75

152 Danny Lee (Nzl) 75 77, Charley Hoffman 75 77, Paul Casey (Eng) 78 74, Michael Kim 74 78

153 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 84 69, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 77 76

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