PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - American Webb Simpson matched the course record of nine-under 63 and opened a commanding five-shot lead in the second round of the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass on Friday.
Simpson was on the verge of smashing the mark after reeling off six straight birdies, but he came to grief with a double bogey at the island-green par-three 17th.
After some indecision on the tee, he pushed his shot right, his luck running out as 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.
“Everything was working today. Putts that I’m just trying to get close are going in. I just rode the momentum,” Simpson said after posting a 15-under 129 halfway total.
“It’s rare as a golfer that everything’s working well. I didn’t know anything about a course record. I’ve broken 60 a couple of times so I’m thinking about it a little bit.”
South African Charl Schwartzel, New Zealander Danny Lee (both 66) and American Patrick Cantlay (68) were a distant second on 10-under.
Tiger Woods, at one-under 143, was in danger of missing the cut after a mediocre 71.
“I didn’t quite swing it right today, and I didn’t quite have the shape, ball flight,” said 14-times major champion Woods.
“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.”
Schwartzel, without a top-25 finish in seven starts at the tournament, showed glimpses of what he is capable of.
He 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.
One of those victories, however, came with a green jacket, at the 2011 U.S. Masters, where Schwartzel birdied the final four holes to storm to victory.
Once ranked as high as sixth in the world, Schwartzel has dropped to 62nd after an indifferent couple of years.
“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.
Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris