PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) David Toms doesn’t feel as though he’s done anything special over 36 holes, which sometimes can be good enough at The Players Championship. At least before the wild weekend begins.
He hasn’t made any long putts, like the 50-footer Bubba Watson made on the island-green 17th that produced the loudest cheer of another steamy day on the TPC Sawgrass. Toms hasn’t holed any bunker shots, as Nick Watney did in the opening round.
And he hasn’t tried to be perfect on a course that can look as though it demands it.
“I’ve just played very, very solid,” Toms said.
He found the right recipe over two days at The Players to put together rounds of 66-68 for a 10-under 134, giving him a one-shot lead over Watney, with a host of other big names right behind him.
Watney, who won a World Golf Championship at Doral two months ago, opened the back nine with back-to-back birdies, then gave himself a birdie chance on every hole coming in without making any, including a pair of them from inside 7 feet.
He still managed a 71 and will be in the final group of another big event.
“They definitely get my juices flowing,” Watney said.
The group at 8-under features two U.S. Open champions – Graeme McDowell and Lucas Glover – along with Steve Stricker, who not terribly long ago was No. 2 in the world on the strength of his two FedEx Cup playoff victories.
The bigger threat might be Luke Donald.
Donald, who won his World Golf Championship at Arizona in February, can go to No. 1 in the world with a win this week at the biggest event of golf’s strongest tour. He has only been out of the top 10 once since September, and that was at Riviera when he started his season after a two-month break.
Donald hit a pitching wedge to 7 feet for birdie on the island green on his way to a 67. He later described his game on Twitter as being the same color of his pants – mustard – then had to explain to his American tweeps that mustard is slang in London for “good.”
What to say about 36 holes at Sawgrass without a bogey, the first player since 2004 to do that?
“I think it’s an accomplishment anywhere,” Donald said. “This is a tough course. There is a lot of danger lurking. It is pretty easy to slip up around this course. So it’s pretty satisfying to go without making a bogey 36 holes.
McDowell is back on track after a dismal April and shot a 69 and also was two shots back, along with Glover, who had an up-and-down day of 71 and is riding high after his win last week at Quail Hollow.
Stricker didn’t do much until lighting up the back nine with five birdies for a 67. That followed a 69 in the opening round, not bad for a guy who had not broken 70 at Sawgrass since 2002.
“I think it’s the visual factor here,” Stricker said. “A lot of Pete Dye courses – same up at Whistling Straits for the PGA – you’ve got to get past that and allow yourself to swing aggressively, swing confidently. And I’ve done that the first couple of days here.
“It’s kind of an intimidating course.”
So who’s the favorite?
“Whoever plays the best on the weekend,” Glover said, as good of an answer as anyone can provide.
Toms doesn’t have a great record at TPC Sawgrass. In 18 previous attempts, he has missed the cut 10 times and only once has finished in the top 10. He just couldn’t figure out the right angle into the greens, and always believed it had to be just right.
“It seemed early in my career around here I was always trying to play the perfect shot,” he said. “I think the last few years, I’ve just learned to try to play my game, my shot … rather than trying to hit the perfect shot on the golf course.”
Watney did his best to catch him.
He started the back nine with back-to-back birdies, then gave himself a chance on every hole. Watney missed four birdie putts inside 12 feet over his last seven holes, settling for 71 after opening with a 64. His emotions showed what this place can do for you.
“I’m not exactly happy,” Watney said, before ending his remarks with, “I’m excited where I am.”
Even with Tiger Woods long departed after withdrawing Thursday, there was no shortage of drama.
A fan offered to be lifted down into the lake off the 18th tee to retrieve Michael Bradley’s driver when it came out of his hands. Mark Wilson called a two-shot penalty on himself for a double-hit – even though video evidence was inconclusive – which caused him to miss the cut. Jonathan Byrd challenged a bad time he received, and had Rory Sabbatini argue on his behalf.
The cut came at even-par 144, and even that featured some tough moments. Ernie Els, inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday, was in front of the par-5 ninth in two, flubbed a chip and missed a 4-foot putt to make bogey and miss the cut by one.
Then there was the scorecard of Phil Mickelson – a 31 on the front to get within two shots of the lead, a 40 on the back to settle for a 71 and linger eight shots out of the lead.
Copyright 2010 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. STATS LLC and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.