The Players: Webb Simpson roars into five-shot lead as Rory McIlroy bows out
By Keith Jackson at TPC Sawgrass
Last Updated: 12/05/18 8:42pm
Webb Simpson stormed into a commanding lead at the halfway stage of The Players Championship as Rory McIlroy missed the cut at TPC Sawgrass.
Simpson was in a class of his own as he carded a stunning nine-under 63 which equalled the Stadium Course record, although he appeared set to hold it outright until finding water at the notorious 17th.
But his astonishing performance elevated him five shots clear of the chasing pack, led by Charl Schwartzel, Patrick Cantlay and Danny Lee, while Tiger Woods scraped into the weekend with nothing to spare as late errors from various afternoon starters pushed the cut line back to one under.
Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas also extended their tournaments right on the mark, but their playing-partner McIlroy stumbled to a two-over 74 which was two shots too many to play another 36 holes.
But the cut line was nowhere near Simpson's radar as he put together one of the finest rounds of his career, his charge up the leaderboard beginning with a 35-foot putt for eagle at the second, and he then picked up three shots in five holes to cap a faultless, outward 31.
Simpson, without a PGA Tour victory since 2013, missed a good birdie chance from 15 feet at the 10th, but his putter was red-hot over the next six holes as he soared seven shots clear of the field.
The 2012 US Open champion drained three from close to 20 feet on 12, 13 and 14 before holing out from off the green at the next, his ball hitting the cup at pace and dropping.
The 32-year-old maintained his bid for a course record with his sixth consecutive birdie at the 16th, but his remarkable run ended when his under-hit tee-shot to 17 cannoned off the wooden surround at the front of the green and bounded over the back into the hazard.
The resulting double-bogey left him needing to birdie the last for the outright scoring record, but he could manage only a par as his 63 gave him a five-shot cushion heading into the weekend.
Former Masters champion Schwartzel had earlier set the clubhouse target at 10 under after he handed in a flawless, six-birdie 66 shortly before he had company in Cantlay, who fired a solid 68.
Lee then made it a three-way tie for second with an amazing recovery from a double-bogey seven at the 11th, the New Zealander making four birdies and an eagle over the last seven holes to match Schwartzel's 66.
In-form Swede Alex Noren leads the European challenge as he added a 69 to his opening 66 to reach nine under alongside Chesson Hadley and Charles Howell III, with 2016 Players champion Jason Day a further stroke behind.
World No 1 Dustin Johnson shared the overnight lead after he cruised to a 66 on day one, and he put himself on course for another low score when he eagled the second.
But he then lost momentum with three bogeys in four holes from the sixth, although he responded with three consecutive birdies at 11, 12 and 13 before another dropped shot and four closing pars added up to a 71 - seven under par overall.
Former TPC winners Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott are alongside the American in a tie for 11th, while last year's runner-up Ian Poulter is the leading English player on five under after he carded a five-birdie 69.
Woods, meanwhile, battled hard for the second day running to card a 71 blighted only by a bogey at the 18th - his ninth - although he made only two birdies before enduring an anxious wait to see if he would be around for the weekend.
The projected cut was at two under numerous times, but it dipped to one under late in the day to let in Woods, world No 2 Thomas, and Spieth, who staged a valiant fightback from his opening 75 to card a seven-birdie 68.
But McIlroy littered his card with four bogeys and needed to par the last two holes to survive, and his hopes were scuppered when his tee shot to 17 pitched on the front bank and rolled back into the water which led to a double-bogey.
Live featured group coverage from the third round at Sawgrass begins at 1:30pm on Saturday, only on Sky Sports The Players.