Charl Schwartzel and Patrick Cantlay set the early target Friday at The Players Championship.
Still to be determined was whether Tiger Woods gets a chance to catch them.
Schwartzel never came close to bogey in his round of 6-under 66 on another day of warm weather and good scoring conditions at the TPC Sawgrass. Cantlay was efficient as ever except for one bad break that led to bogey on the par-5 ninth. He had a 68.
They were at 10-under 134, one shot ahead of Chesson Hadley (69) and two clear over Jason Day (67), Steve Stricker (69) and Xander Schauffele (68).
Much like at the Masters and last week at Quail Hollow, Woods has not been much of a factor.
He had a wedge or short iron in his hands on half of his holes and rarely got it close, making only two birdies for a 71. Woods was just inside the cut line with half the field, including Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, playing in the afternoon. It looked as though it would be enough to make the cut. He has missed it only once in 17 previous appearances, when he withdrew after nine holes with an injury.
“I didn’t have much of what I wanted,” Woods said. “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.”
That wasn’t an issue for Schwartzel, Cantlay and everyone else trying to get into position for a week where the course figures to get firmer and tougher.
Schwartzel missed only two greens — one on the fringe, another from a few feet off green — as he had another week of getting results he needed to see. He tied for third with Louis Oosthuizen as his partner in New Orleans. He tied for ninth last week at Quail Hollow.
“I felt it being good for probably the last two months but been having terrible results,” Schwartzel said. “The one key factor has been to bring the same tempo out to the golf course as I do when I’m playing practice rounds, because I worked really hard in the offseason on my swing and I’m very happy with where it is. It’s in really good positions, and so the hard part has been done.”
Cantlay typically controls his shots, which helps on the Stadium Course. His only blunder came on a poor tee shot into the trees to the left on No. 9, and while he had a good opening to get the ball over a creek and in position for a wedge to the green, he had a stick just in front of his ball.
“I couldn’t tell if I could get it clean or not, and I made a really nice swing but I got all stick in front of the ball and it went in the water,” Cantlay said. “I actually felt like every swing I made except the tee shot was really good on that hole and I got up-and-down for a 6.”
Jimmy Walker birdied three of his last four holes for a 68 and was in the group at 7-under 137 that included Matt Kuchar (71) and Sergio Garcia (69).
Phil Mickelson missed the cut for the fifth time in the last six years, though that was decided more by his 78 on Thursday. Mickelson lost momentum early with a shot in the water on the 13th hole for a double bogey, and after running off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the front nine, he finished with three straight bogeys for a 73. It was his 18th consecutive round at Sawgrass without breaking 70.
Rickie Fowler also was likely headed home after losing a ball in the tree on No. 6, the first of his consecutive double bogeys for a 71.
Woods might be the only player from that star group that gets into the weekend, though he still looks far away from contending. With a sand wedge on No. 10, he went over the side of the green. His sand wedge on the par-5 11th came up 15 feet short. And on the short par-4 12th, after Fowler had stuffed one to 4 feet, Woods went too far and had 15 feet. He missed them all.
“That’s not the start I wanted to have,” Woods said. “And unfortunately, kind of went the rest of the day the same way.”
He finally made birdie on the par-5 16th with a good up-and-down from behind the green, only to give it back two holes later when he missed the 18th green to the right and failed to convert a 10-foot par putt. Woods hit 6-iron, his longest club on the par 4s.
His only other birdie was an 18-footer on the par-3 third.
“I’m more frustrated in the fact that I had some shorter irons in there and I didn’t hit any of them close,” Woods said. “I should be hitting them inside flag length, and I didn’t do that at all today.”