Misery for McIlroy but Simpson soars at Sawgrass
Webb Simpson opened up the biggest 36-hole lead in the history of The Players when he blasted a course record-equalling 63 to head the field by five shots at TPC Sawgrass.
As Rory McIlroy missed the cut for the PGA Tour's $11m flagship event first time since 2012, Shane Lowry dramatically scraped in for the weekend alongside Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth thanks to a miraculous closing par.
But the real drama came from Simpson, who made an eagle and three birdies in an outward 31 before rattling in a tournament record six birdies in a row from the 11th to go 11-under for his round
A birdie-birdie finish would have given him a magical 59, but with the wind swirling, his tee-shot at the 147-yard 17th ricocheted off the front bulwark and through the green into the water, leading to a double bogey.
A closing par still gave the 2012 US Open champion a 63 and a five-shot lead over Charl Schwartzel (66), Patrick Cantlay (68) and Danny Lee (66) on 15-under par with Chesson Hadley (69), Charles Howell III (67) and Alex Noren (69) six behind on nine-under
"Seventeen was a bummer," admitted Simpson, who holed an otherworldly 143-feet of putts in a 23-putt round, eight of them between 11 and 34 feet. "I probably should have hit one more club but all in all it was a great confidence builder for me."
With the cut line hovering between one and two under all afternoon, there was a nervous wait for Lowry, who drove into water at the 18th but then hit a 180-yard approach to nine inches to save par and card a super 68 that left him alongside Woods, who shot 71, on one-under.
McIlroy was struggling at two-over for the day with five to play, but after getting back to one-under for the round and the tournament with birdies at the 14th and 16th.
But he screwed his wedge at the 17th back into the lake and made a costly double-bogey five to shoot 74 and miss out by two shots on one-over.
Jason Day (67) is in a group seven behind on eight under with world No 1 Dustin Johnson a shot further back after a 71.
Meanwhile, West Waterford's Gary Hurley is tied for second at halfway in the Challenge Tour's Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort.
He shot a three-under 69 to lie just a shot behind Spain's Adri Arnaus on five-under-par with Ballymena's Dermot McElroy seven behind after a 75.
Late birdies saw Stuart Grehan shoot 71 and Chris Selfridge a 73 to make the two-over cut on the mark but Cormac Sharvin followed his opening 69 with a 78 to miss out by one stroke as Jonny Caldwell (5-over), Conor O'Rourke (9-over) and Jack Hume (10-over) also came up short.
On the European Tour, Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard shot 68 and Julien Guerrier a 65 to lead the Rocco Forte Sicilian Open at a wild and windy Verdura Golf Club.
They top the leaderboard by a shot on nine-under from English duo Steven Brown and Ryan Evans but while Derry's Ruaidhri McGee followed his opening 77 with a level par 71, he missed the three-over cut by three strokes.
It was also wild and windy in the Irish Women's Open Strokeplay at Co Louth, where Lisburn's Paula Grant and Delgany's Lauren Murray lead by a shot from South Africa's Chloe Royston and Wales' Jordan Ryan after they defied heavy rain and winds gusting up to 40mph to open with five-over 79s.
On the Symetra Tour, Jordanstown's Stephanie Meadow added a 71 to her opening 73 to lie just three shots off the clubhouse lead on level par in the Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women's Health Classic in South Carolina.
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