PONTE VEDRA BEACH — Sergio Garcia had one of those stretches where it felt like every putt was going to drop. He needed every one of them Friday for 7-under 65 to match his best score at TPC Sawgrass and take a one-shot lead over Tiger Woods at the Players Championship.
Garcia, who started the day five shots back of leader Roberto Castro, didn't miss a fairway on his back-nine start and had birdie putts on every hole, but he wasn't gaining ground. That changed on the front nine.
Garcia ran off five straight birdies on Nos. 2-6, the last two on putts from 20 and 25 feet, and added a 40-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth to race into the lead.
"When you start going like that, obviously it feels great," said Garcia, who was at 11-under 133. "Everything seems kind of clearer in your head. You seem to see the break. You seem to feel like everything is a little bit easier, a little bit smoother, and you hit the putt, and it manages to go in.
"If it was easy, we would have plenty of those, but it's not. Enjoy them while you have them."
Those are wise words from a player looking to change his weekend fortunes. Three times since 2006 Garcia has held a 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour, and he has no wins and a combined 12-over performance in Rounds 3 and 4 to show for it.
Woods looks like he is having a good time on a course that has vexed him more than any other on tour. A three-time winner this year on tour, Woods rarely put himself in trouble in the first two rounds and had his second straight 67.
At 134, Woods had his best 36-hole total at this tournament by six shots, including the year he won, 2001. He was asked if any part of his game was making him unhappy.
"No, I'm pretty pleased with where it's at right now," Woods responded.
The 18 players within five shots of the lead included three reigning major champions, Adam Scott (68, 7 under), Webb Simpson (71, 6 under) and Rory McIlroy (72, 6 under).
McIlroy made the cut for the first time in four appearances at the tournament, "which I'm delighted about," he said. "But I am in there with a chance."
Castro's stay atop the leaderboard was short-lived.
Castro, who tied the course record Thursday with 9-under 63, shot 6-over 78 and was at 3 under. Only five others — rookie Derek Ernst (who won his first tour event last weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship), Brian Harman, George McNeill, Greg Owen and Y.E. Yang — had worse rounds.
Still, Castro's outlook remained positive despite his 15-shot swing. "I wouldn't have been embarrassed or felt bad or anything if I would have shot two 76s this week," he said. "It's a hard golf course. I'm 3 under par and beating 110 of the best players in the world through 36 holes, so I just kept telling myself, 'It's not easy, it's not easy, it's not easy.' "
Ryan Palmer, who learned Thursday night that one of his best friends had died in a car accident in San Antonio, Texas, had two eagles in a round of 69 and was three shots behind.
He got a little emotional after his par putt on the 18th green: "The day was over, so I kind of let it all out for a minute."
Before the round, Palmer talked to friends and his psychologist, whose advice focused on "being real calm and slow out there and just not getting too emotional."
Eleven former major winners, including Phil Mickelson (73) and Vijay Singh (71) at 1 over, headed home after missing the cut of par 144.
Players Championship leaderboard
Sergio Garcia 68-65 133 -11
Tiger Woods 67-67 134 -10
Kevin Chappell 69-66 135 -9
Lee Westwood 69-66 135 -9
Henrik Stenson 68-67 135 -9
Matt Kuchar 71-66 137 -7
Adam Scott 69-68 137 -7
Rory McIlroy 66-72 138 -6
Steve Stricker 67-71 138 -6
Roberto Castro 63-78 141 -3
Phil Mickelson 72-73 145 +1
TV today: 2, Ch. 8
Weather: High 85, 30 percent chance of rain