Oosthuizen in share of lead as McIlroy struggles with back

Louis Oosthuizen

Players Championship second-round leaderboard
-9 L Oosthuizen (SA), K Stanley (US); -7 JB Holmes (US); -6 V Singh (Fij); -5 I Poulter (Eng), D Hearn (Can), R Cabrera Bello (Spa), P Cantlay (US), A Noren (Swe)
Selected others:-4 P Casey (Eng), -2 A Scott (Aus); -1 G McDowell (NI) Level R McIlroy (NI), S Garcia (Spa), D Johnson (US); +1 L Westwood (Eng), J Rose (Eng);+3 L Donald (Eng); +4 J Spieth (US)
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Louis Oosthuizen shot a bogey-free six-under-par 66 to take a share of the lead after round two of the Players Championship at Sawgrass.

The South African former Open champion is level on nine under par with American Kyle Stanley, who also shot 66, with eight birdies and two bogeys.

JB Holmes spoiled an impressive round with bogeys on his final two holes to sit third overnight on seven under.

Fiji’s three-time major winner Vijay Singh, 54, is fourth on six under.

He also faded at the end of his round – carding his only bogey in a 68 on the 18th.

Singh would surpass Sam Snead, who was 52 when he won the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open, as the oldest winner in PGA Tour history if he were to claim a first victory since 2008.

Ian Poulter was Britain’s best performer as he followed four birdies and a bogey with an eagle on the 16th to card a 67 and move to five under. Fellow Englishman Paul Casey is one shot further back.

“I was really happy with that,” Casey told Sky Sports after shooting 69.

“But I need more numbers in the 60s to catch guys like Louis at the top. Nothing really fazes him and there’s a lot of depth behind too.”

The big names struggle – again

Rory McIlroy had two birdies and one bogey as he again failed to produce his best, carding a one-under-par 71 to move to level par overall.

After his round, the Northern Irishman said he had been suffering with a back problem.

Rory McIlroy

“I’m going to get an MRI scan on Monday after the tournament and I might have to rest for a week or two,” he told Sky Sports.

“As long as I get myself right for the US Open, that’s the most important thing.”

McIlroy’s struggles were mirrored by Masters champion Sergio Garcia and world number one Dustin Johnson, who both also finished one under par, two shots above the halfway cut.

England’s Justin Rose and Lee Westwood finished on one over, but their countryman Luke Donald did miss the cut, two bogeys and a double bogey between the sixth and eighth ultimately costing him as he ended on three over par.

Jordan Spieth was another high-profile casualty. The 2015 Masters and US Open champion missed the cut for a third year in a row after adding a 75 to the 72 he scored on Thursday, ending on four over par.

But it could have been worse…

India’s Anirban Lahiri came within a stroke of carding the highest score at the 18th hole in the tournament’s history.

The world number 84 hooked three balls into the water hazard that lines the left side of the par-four hole, running up a sextuple-bogey 10.

The 29-year-old, in his second full season on the PGA Tour, shot 75 to miss the cut with a six-over total of 150.

Earlier on Friday, 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett pulled out midway through his second round because of a back injury, saying his “body and mind need a rest”.

Willett, who has a history of back injuries, was 11 over par for his 27 holes in Florida.

The BMW PGA Championship takes place in Wentworth from 25 May, and asked if he would be fit to play, Willett replied: “Hopefully, touch wood.

“We’ll see how things go. I’ve already limited the schedule down a lot. Hopefully, all going well, we get back on. We have a week to do some work and see how it feels.”

Analysis

BBC Sport golf correspondent Iain Carter

It has been a curious Players Championship, with none of the world’s leading players fully getting to grips with a testing Sawgrass.

The 66s of Louis Oosthuizen and Kyle Stanley were exceptional rounds on a hot, breezy afternoon when the course became firmer and the water grabbed balls galore at the treacherous 17th.

Rory McIlroy made it to the weekend but it will be results of a different sort on Monday that will be more significant.

He faces an anxious wait for an MRI scan to identify the extent of his latest back injury. If rest is prescribed it may put in jeopardy his place in Wentworth’s BMW PGA Championship at the end of the month.

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'A missed cut – and to cap it all, Chelsea won the league'

Luke Donald

Players Championship
Venue: TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida Dates: 11-14 May
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website on Saturday and Sunday

England’s former world number one Luke Donald narrowly failed to make the cut at the Players Championship despite a battling back nine at TPC Sawgrass. Donald came back in a two-under-par 34 in a second-round 73 . He reflects on the frustration of not making the weekend in his final exclusive diary entry for BBC Sport.

Friday

This is a course you have to be really on your game to compete on and have a chance to win. I fought really hard the last couple of days but I’m just playing too defensively off the tee.

As good as my short game and putting is, even though I missed a couple of short ones today, it is just hard to create momentum and get on a roll when you’re not quite in position off the tee.

It’s certainly not easy out there. I made a nice birdie on 16 – and when we were on that green we watched Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth both hit it in the water on the 17th.

That green at the top was just rock hard, so it was difficult to be aggressive. I hit a really good shot there to about 18ft, hit a good putt, but these new greens are tough to read.

I was aggressive on the last, hit driver and then a nine iron and another good putt. Had either of those birdie chances gone in, I would have been here for the weekend.

It wasn’t to be, unfortunately, but the damage was done on six, seven and eight. I missed a short one on the sixth, hit a terrible drive on seven and made a double bogey and missed a short one on the eighth.

Suddenly I was four over par on three holes and I was always playing catch-up from then. Even though I was under the cosh, I played better because I was more aggressive and it became more of a challenge in my mind.

I just have to try to get a bit better each week because I know my short game from inside 100 yards and my putting is good enough to compete with the best. The rest just needs to sharpen up and I will keep persevering.

Off the course this week, it was nice to have the company of my wife Diane, who drove up on Wednesday. It was good because she is often home with the kids. We had a couple of nice meals.

Every week is a similar routine to be honest – I wasn’t going out partying until 2am or anything like that! It was a nice week, unfortunately spoiled by a couple of errant tee shots and missed putts.

And to cap it all, as a Tottenham fan, I’ve just found out that Chelsea have won the league. I suppose it was inevitable, their run-in looked reasonably straightforward.

Hats off to Chelsea – I suppose I have to say – through gritted teeth.

Thursday

They are such fine margins on the Stadium Course. I just hit a couple of bad shots that really cost me; the second shot I pulled into the water on 18, where I made a double bogey, and I hit another one left on the seventh and it rolled into the water.

Having started on the 10th, I fought really hard and had a nice run of three birdies in a row including the famous 17th. At that point I was in a good spot at two under.

It’s funny, one of my friends a couple of days ago texted me saying he thought it would take him two days to finish that 17th hole. For us it’s a relatively simple wedge or nine iron to a green that’s a decent size for that amount of club. But obviously you surround it with water and it makes it a little bit more difficult. And they put the pins close to the edge and certainly the water is very much in play.

Today the wind was in off the left, which is different, and it was 123 yards. It was a pitching wedge for me, taking a couple of yards off it and I played it just where I wanted to just to the left of the pin. I had 16 feet for birdie and knocked it in. It was lovely to make a two there and I had some momentum going.

The fans are all around the tee. It is the hole that this course is most known for and it’s one of the better par-threes in the world. Interestingly those always seem to be short yardages, there are not too many long par-threes I can think of that would get into that category. It is a very, very well-designed hole.

Luke Donald

Before the tournament, we highlighted the new driveable par-four 12th. Today, there was a left-to-right wind and, with that in mind, I was never going to go for the green off the tee. I just laid up with a four iron but I misjudged my second shot from 95 yards and had to two-putt from just off the back of the green.

I know I have my work cut out in the second round to make the cut. I will try to pick off the holes that give opportunities and make sure I play the tough ones well.

It’s quite simple, you have to go out there and execute every shot, it is one of those courses. Pin positions can make it very tricky to get close because of how the greens are designed.

There are birdie opportunities, though. I made four in the first round but just made too many mistakes – hopefully that won’t be the case in the second round.

Wednesday

The Players is such an important tournament. It is certainly a step above our regular Tour events, probably not quite to the major status, but it certainly fits right in just behind the majors.

It’s one of the best fields, we play on an iconic golf course and it is a tournament everyone wants on their resume for sure. I’ve come close in the past and would dearly love to win out here.

Preparing this week has involved accommodating the course changes, which include the new short par-four 12th. The course being slightly altered and renovated brings a freshness to the place that we haven’t seen.

So we are relearning some of it because the past knowledge that we had is not quite the same. It is a course that demands a lot out of your game, the Championship produces great winners and you can’t argue with that.

I saw the new 12th hole for the first time and it is an interesting driveable par-four. I feel like a lot of people will still lay up but some will definitely go for it.

A lot of golfers out here have a big ego and they feel like they can take it on, which is a good design feature. But it’s a reasonably simple lay-up and simple pitch to a somewhat flat green.

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You will pretty much have a plan before playing the hole. I will talk to my caddie and figure it out, but I have to play to my strengths – and they are not hitting 300-yard straight drives. That’s just a reality that I have to come to terms with.

My strengths are 100 yards and in, so if I can put myself in a good position from there I’m going to create birdie chances. The risk of going for it for me isn’t worth it, so it is likely I will lay up every day.

I’ve been working on my swing to control my ball flight a little bit better off the tee. If I get it in play then I can let my irons and my short game do the work. That’s the preparation I’ve been doing leading up to this week.

There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the tournament moving back to its original March date with August’s PGA Championship fitting into this May week.

I remember the Players course played more difficult in March. There was more rough and certainly more wind. Wind and firmness are the two factors that make golf courses more difficult.

This time of year the course is a little firmer compared with March but you get a lot less wind and more favourable weather conditions.

March would probably be a good slot for this tournament. You might have more weather issues but it would make the course more difficult if that’s what their goal is.

Luke Donald

It would affect the rhythm of the golfing year if it moved back to March and the PGA Championship took the May slot. It would feel strange at first but after a few years we would get into the mode of that being the case.

It would be a bit weird having the Open Championship as the last major in July and then have to wait eight months until the Masters in April for the next major.

It would condense the schedule a little bit and people would have to play a bit more in the middle of the season.

We just have to be very grateful for the tournaments and the prize money and everything that we get to play for. If the calendar is in a different order I don’t think it will make too much of a difference.

The only thing with the PGA moving to May would be eliminating some really good North East golf courses in America because the weather conditions probably aren’t good enough to get those courses in good enough shape to stage a major.

Coming into this week, my form and confidence are a mixed bag. I’ve had some good weeks and my game is close.

I am still working very hard on aspects of my golf swing that I’ve been working on for a couple of years. I keep slipping back and it is very hard with such a busy season to get those changes cemented in, but I’m making progress.

Last month, at the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head – where I was second again – was a good week. It’s always a good week for me there. That’s given me confidence.

My short game that week was as good as it has ever been, my putting was very solid and that’s how I build my game.

If I can keep that strong and continually improve some of the little weaknesses in my swing and long game then expect to see me rising up those rankings again.

Luke Donald was speaking to BBC Sport’s golf correspondent Iain Carter.

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Injured Willett pulls out mid-round at Sawgrass

Briton Danny Willett

Danny Willett pulled out of the Players Championship midway through his second round because of a back injury, saying his “body and mind need a rest”.

Willett, 29, was 11-over-par for his 27 holes at Sawgrass in Florida.

The 2016 Masters champion tweeted: “Not good to have to withdraw but swinging very poorly is putting a lot of unwanted strain on the back.”

Willett, who has a history of back injuries, has missed four cuts in nine tournaments this season.

The Sheffield-born player’s form – including becoming the first defending champion since Mike Weir in 2004 to miss the cut at the Masters in April – has resulted in his world ranking falling to 21st.

Briton Danny Willett

He also split with friend and long-time caddie Jonathan Smart earlier this month after a disagreement during April’s RBC Heritage event.

Willett’s next scheduled start is the BMW PGA Championship, the key event on the European Tour schedule, in two weeks’ time.

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Players' Championship: Adam Scott blows chance of opening round lead

Adam Scott

Players Championship
Venue: TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida Dates: 11-14 May
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website on Saturday and Sunday

Adam Scott dropped four shots over the last two holes as he blew the chance to take a first-round lead at the Players’ Championship at Sawgrass in Florida.

On a day several big names struggled, world number 11 Scott recorded a five on the par-three 17th and a six on the par-four 18th to shoot 70.

American William McGirt leads overnight after a carding a five-under 67.

World number two Rory McIlroy and Masters winner Sergio Garcia finished one over, with Justin Rose one back.

Number one Dustin Johnson carded a one-under 71, while England’s Luke Donald scored a 74.

Scott’s fellow Australian Jason Day, the world number three, is also two-under after scoring a 70.