PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Alex Cejka served up more proof Friday that The Players Championship is full of surprises, not only on the devilish TPC Sawgrass, but also on the leaderboard.
A week after he needed an epidural to restore feeling in his right arm, Cejka ran off six birdies in 11 holes to start his second round and wound up with a 5-under 67 to build a two-shot lead over Ian Poulter going into a weekend full of possibilities.
Neither of the top two players have ever won on the PGA Tour, and only one player in the 35-year history of this event has ever made this his first PGA Tour victory. An eclectic group four shots behind include Masters champion Angel Cabrera, former PGA champion David Toms and Jason Dufner, an alternate when he showed up Monday who earned a tee time through someone else’s misfortune.
Tiger Woods did his best to get back into the hunt, with a delicate pitch out of the mounds for a short birdie, and making an important save on the par-5 16th by trying to land short of the green with his third shot, even though he was only 45 yards away.
“I got myself back in the ball game,” Woods said after a 69, leaving him seven shots behind.
Seven shots sounds like a lot, but perhaps not at Sawgrass, where even small mistakes can lead to big numbers.
Cejka avoided that better than most.
He didn’t hit the ball as pure as the first round, when he hit every fairway and missed only one green on his way to a 66, but he holed enough putts to reach 11-under 133 and get into the final group on the PGA Tour for the first time in nearly five years.
“I’m pretty excited to sit here two days in a row,” he said.
Calgary’s Stephen Ames is tied for 27th at 3-under par after shooting a 1-under 71. Mike Weir just made the cut with an even-par 72 on Friday and is even for the tournament. The native of Bright’s Grove, Ont., is tied for 61st.
Kevin Na, who played with Cejka before no more than a few dozen people most of the round, tried to make up ground and had a 66 to finish in the group at 7-under 137, along with Cabrera (65), Dufner (70), Toms (70), Henrik Stenson (69) and John Mallinger (71).
Cejka didn’t seem overly surprised to be leading, despite his recent health issues. He had surgery to replace a disk in his neck last year and everything was going well until he couldn’t feel his arm two weeks ago. He had an epidural, regained some feeling in his arms, hands and fingers, then got right back to work.
“In New Orleans, where I didn’t feel anything at all, I really played from tee-to-green phenomenal,” he said.
“I just had no feeling, and I couldn’t make putts. The feeling is better, and I can see it on the greens. So we’ll see what happens the next two days.”
Phil Mickelson is thankful he gets to play for two more days. He struggled with his putting most of the round and shot 1-under 71, making birdie on the last hole to make the cut on the number.
“You never want to give up here, because too many things can happen on this golf course,” Mickelson said.