McIlroy closes strong to pull even with Fleetwood at The Players


Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy rolled in a 21-foot birdie putt on the famed 17th hole on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on Friday to grab a share of the lead with England's Tommy Fleetwood at 12 under halfway through The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Fleetwood sat in the clubhouse leading by as many as three shots after posting his 5-under 67 on Friday, only to watch McIlroy eagle the 16th hole en route to posting 5-under 31 on the back nine alone.

Fleetwood, who birdied his final three holes on Thursday, opened with a birdie in the second round. He then holed out for eagle from a green-side bunker on the par-5 second hole and rolled in another birdie on No. 3.

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He mixed three more birdies against a pair of bogeys over the final 15 holes to reach the clubhouse at 12-under-par 132 through 36 holes.

"It was a bit tougher (Friday), the greens got a bit crustier there at the end," Fleetwood told the Golf Channel. "And the course is just firming out a bit now. All in all, very happy."

McIlroy had a chance to shoot 64 -- which would have equaled Jim Furyk for the low round of the tournament -- and take the outright lead, but left his birdie attempt on the 18th hole short.

Furyk, who played in the morning wave and had eight birdies and no bogeys, is tied for third place at 9 under along with Brian Harman, England's Ian Poulter and Mexico's Abraham Ancer.

"I've rolled a couple of nice putts in today," said Poulter, who chipped in from off the green twice on Friday and has made an average of 100 feet, 11 inches of putts through the first two rounds. "Hit a few decent shots in, where I could take advantage."

Another shot back at 8 under are Kevin Kisner, Keith Mitchell, Australia's Jason Day and Slovakia's Rory Sabbatini.

Luke List was in the first group to tee off on No. 1 at 7:40 a.m., and he took advantage of the soft conditions and mild winds. He posted a 5-under 68 in reaching the weekend for the first time in three attempts at The Players, and is part of a group at 7 under that includes top-ranked Dustin Johnson.

"It was pretty benign early, and then the wind began picking up like it does here," Lust told the Golf Channel. "I think the weekend they can do whatever they want, make it as hard as they want it and make it a challenge for us.

"If you're playing really well, you can score. But if you get out of position, that's where you have to be really cautious. If I can just kind of do the same things, I think I can be there on Sunday."

Tiger Woods also took advantage of the early conditions, teeing off on the back nine and arriving at the 17th hole with three birdies on his card. However, his tee shot rolled off the back left into the water, and Woods put his next shot in the water as well.

Woods wound up carding the first quadruple bogey of his career on the hole. The last player to win a PGA Tour event with a quadruple bogey during the week was Adam Scott at the 2016 Honda Classic.

"I was pretty ticked, no doubt about that," Woods told reporters. "I was bound and determined to get it all back and get it back to 5 under."

Woods did finish the day with five birdies in posting a 1-under 71 and is nine shots off the lead at 3 under for the tournament.

"I ended up getting back to 3 (under)," Woods said. "It was a good fight to get it back to that point."

Fleetwood and McIlroy might prove difficult men to catch over the weekend, although both are chasing something elusive.

McIlroy has finished in the top six in all five of his events this year, but he has not posted a victory since the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Meanwhile, Fleetwood has made a point of playing more big events in the United States, which includes posting six consecutive rounds under par on the Stadium Course.

However, Fleetwood has yet to claim his first victory on U.S. soil.

"It's tough," he said of trying to close out a victory. "Late in the afternoon on Saturday you get into the very, very final part of how the golf course is playing.

"It's tough. I've yet to win, but hopefully that's coming."

NOTES: Jordan Spieth (1 over) and Phil Mickelson (4 over) were among those to miss the cut. ... Rookie Cameron Champ withdrew after two holes Friday due to a back injury. He was 2 over through eight holes after opening with a 78. ... "Disappointingly, I had to WD from my first @thePlayersChamp," Champ tweeted. "I've been dealing with some tightness in my back throughout the week and it spasmed up pretty good today. My team and I decided it was best not to take any unnecessary risks. Good luck to the guys this weekend!" ... South Korea's Sungjae Im hit the second hole-in-one of the week, acing the par-3 13th hole from 152 yards. Ryan Moore aced the 17th hole on Thursday. Im would later hit his tee shot on 17 into the water and take a double bogey, ultimately missing the cut. ... Wyndam Clark was disqualified after shooting an 80 in Thursday's opening round but signing for a 79. He was the last player into the field, landing a spot after Pat Perez withdrew due to an Achilles injury.

--Field Level Media

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