Tiger moves to fringe of contention at Players

Tiger Woods' biggest problem Friday was a broken right shoe.

It turned out to be a quick fix.

If he keeps playing the way he did in the second round at The Players Championship, he might be able to say the same about his golf game.

Woods made four consecutive birdies after a shoe swap in the sixth fairway, shot a 4-under 68 and put himself on the edge of contention heading into the weekend. He was at 2-under 142, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson, Kevin Na and Matt Kuchar.

"I'm still with a good chance," Woods said.

He hasn't been able to realistically say that for weeks. Woods had gone nine rounds without shooting in the 60s. After winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he struggled at the Masters and missed the cut at Quail Hollow last week. After spraying the ball around in the opening round at TPC Sawgrass, he was in danger of missing consecutive cuts for the first time in his career.

A burst of birdies changed everything.

It started with his best shot of the week, a 5-wood into a stiff breeze on the par-3 eighth that caught a slope on the edge of the green and rolled 8 feet from the flag. That was the first of four straight birdies, and when his tee shot to the island-green 17th settled at the very back of the green, he was no longer in danger of going home early again.

"I probably could have gotten one or two more out of (the round)," said Woods, who broke an eyelet on his right shoe on the fifth tee. "But I really played well. I was just very consistent. Nothing spectacular, just real solid golf."

Woods signed a few autographs after his round and headed to the range to fine-tune his swing.

Some of golf's other big names headed home.

Rory McIlroy stumbled to a 76 and became the first player at No. 1 in the world ranking to miss the cut at Sawgrass since Greg Norman in 1996. Steve Stricker had made a PGA Tour-leading 49 cuts in a row until he shot 74 and ended a streak that began in August 2009.

Just about everyone who remains has a chance going into the weekend, including Woods and Phil Mickelson. They were six shots behind. But they are chasing the gang from Sea Island — home of Kuchar and Johnson, along with PGA Tour rookie Harris English, who was one shot out of the lead.

Johnson made five birdies on the back nine, but bogeyed the 18th hole, though he matched the best score of the second round with a 66. Kuchar, who made a strong run at the Masters last month, played bogey-free over his last 13 holes for a 68. Na started the back nine with three straight birdies for a 69.

"It's fun to be back in position with a chance to win again," Kuchar said.

They were at 8-under 136, meaning only eight shots separate first from worst going into the final 36 holes on a most unpredictable Stadium Course. The top 14 players on the leaderboard were separated by three strokes.

English birdied the 17th and 18th for a 67, while the group at 6-under 138 included past champion Adam Scott (70).

Martin Laird was solid for 33 holes and was the only player to reach double digits under par for the week. He was at 10 under with three holes to play when he lost four shots down the stretch. His hopes for eagle turned into bogey with a 4-iron into the water on the 16th, and he dunked one on No. 17 for double bogey.

The good news?

"I'm glad it happened on Friday and not on Sunday," said Laird, whose 73 put him in a large group two shots behind.

Ben Curtis and FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas were in the group at 5-under 139. Those at 3-under 141 included Quail Hollow playoff winner Rickie Fowler and Luke Donald, who at least has a chance to go back to No. 1 in the world now that McIlroy has missed the cut, and Lee Westwood.

Woods was right behind them.

"It was fun to see him kind of get things going, and it looked like he freed up a little bit and started playing some golf," said Fowler, who played the first two rounds with Woods. "You know, he's hitting a lot of good shots and hitting a lot of good putts."