Tiger trails Sergio Garcia by 1 shot

Updated: May 11, 2013, 8:43 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- To Tiger Woods, the mystery that is TPC Sawgrass can really be boiled down to something much simpler: Playing well takes care of everything.

At a place where his comfort level has always been in question, Woods is, so far, making it look easy at PGA Tour headquarters, where he trails tournament leader Sergio Garcia by one stroke through 36 holes at The Players Championship.

The PGA Tour's signature event, which Woods has won just once, in 2001, has mostly been a source of frustration for the world's No. 1-ranked player, who has a single top-10 since his only victory in 15 previous tries.

But an eagle, five birdies and two bogeys Friday led to his second straight 67, the first time in nine years that Woods has gone back to back in the 60s here.

"I've just never been able to put it all together for this one particular week," said Woods, whose birdie on his final hole brought him within one stroke of Garcia and set up a Saturday pairing between the longtime adversaries. "I've done it twice [also had a runner-up finish in 2000], but a majority of the years I really haven't done it.

"But so far this year, I'm right there."

Garcia, ranked 15th in the world, is quietly having a nice year, with three top-10 finishes and nothing worse than last week's tie for 16th (in stroke play) at the Wells Fargo Championship, where a second-round back injury put his status in question.

But all looks good at The Players, where Garcia won in 2008 in a sudden-death playoff then afterward at the awards ceremony thanked Woods for not playing.

At the time, Woods was dealing with knee problems that led to reconstructive surgery following his U.S. Open title later that year. Garcia did not win again on the PGA Tour until last year's Wyndham Championship.

"I hit the ball very well and gave myself a lot of good birdie opportunities," said Garcia, 33, who had a stretch of five straight birdies on the front side (his back nine) to surge into the lead. "I wasn't able to convert many on the front nine, but then I got going on the back nine and I got on a great run there where I made a lot of putts in a row and managed to make those six birdies in a seven-hole stretch, which is nice."

Garcia's 7-under 65 matched his low round at TPC Sawgrass. He has made 13 birdies through 36 holes.

His total of 11-under 133 is one shot better than Woods and two ahead of Lee Westwood, Kevin Chappell and Henrik Stenson.

Woods' 67 came in the group behind Garcia and was his second straight score in the 60s, a first for him at Sawgrass since 2004. Only one other time has Woods gone back-to-back rounds under 70, in 2001, when he did it three straight times on his way to victory.

He is trying for his fourth win of the year on the PGA Tour, but his three previous victories came at places -- Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill -- where he has won often in his career.

TPC Sawgrass hardly fits that mold. His lone victory here came 12 years ago, when he was in the midst of some of the best golf in the game's history and on his way to the Tiger Slam -- victories in four straight major championships starting with the 2000 U.S. Open.

Since his only Players title, Woods has more withdrawals (two) than top-10s (one). His only top-10 in that period was an eighth-place finish in 2009 when he was in the final group but shot 73.

"Even though I haven't played well here in the past, I've still won here," said Woods, noting that he also captured the 1994 U.S. Amateur. "I know how to get around this golf course. This course, more than most, really tests every facet of your game. You have to drive the ball well. You have to hit your irons in the correct spots, and if you don't hit your irons in the correct spots, you're going to have some really funky up-and-downs.

"It's trying to manage the ball in the correct spots, and I've done that the first two days."

Woods hit 15 greens in regulation and needed 30 putts, but he had six one-putt greens and played the par-5s in 4 under par. He is 8 under through two rounds on the par-5s, with six birdies, an eagle and a par.

He's made just two putts longer than 15 feet, but one was for an eagle at the second. He also knocked in a 19-footer for birdie to conclude his round at the ninth.

Garcia needed just 25 putts in the second round after taking only 26 Thursday.

His history with Woods goes back to 1999, when as a 19-year-old he gave Woods a scare at the PGA Championship, losing by a single stroke in an effort that suggested he would win multiple majors.

But Garcia is still waiting for the first. He has nine top-five finishes in majors, including a tie for fifth at the 2006 Open Championship, where he played with Woods in the final group. He also lost in a playoff at the 2007 Open Championship to Padraig Harrington.

"I don't have to measure myself against anybody," Garcia said of a possible pairing with Woods. "I know what I want to try to do, and any given day I can shoot a round like this, and any other day he can shoot a good round and beat me. It's not a sprint; it's a marathon. So there are going to be good days and not-so good days, so just got to enjoy the good ones as much as possible."

Woods is 12-3-4 against Garcia on the PGA Tour in terms of better score dating to 1999. They have been grouped together six times on weekends, with Tiger 6-0 and Garcia breaking 70 just three times.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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