PALM HARBOR — Steve Stricker is savvy enough to know it's not how you start, but how you finish. Nick Watney is playing well enough lately to think he should start strong and finish strong.
Both shared the second-round lead of the Transitions Championship after 4-under-par 67s Friday on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook. Their 6-under 136 was one better than a group of eight, including Retief Goosen, Tom Lehman, Charles Howell and Stuart Appleby.
Fourteen players were within three shots of the lead. Only seven shots separated the leaders and the cut line.
One player who flirted with the cut was first-round leader Jim Furyk. He sank like a rock with 7-over 78 after shooting 65 Thursday. He failed to birdie a hole and had five bogeys and a double bogey. His 78 was his highest round since March 2007 at the World Golf Championship's CA Championship.
Stricker had the opposite kind of day. After starting Thursday with double bogey on the second hole, he righted himself at 2 under. He had no bogeys Friday and recorded his 10th straight round under par dating to the Northern Trust Open in February.
"I don't get spooked nearly as much as I used to,'' said Stricker, who at 42 is ranked 15th in the world. "If I do get off to a bad start, I'm more at ease. I mean, it's just golf. It's just one hole out of 72, and you've just got to blow it off and move on. That's what I've been doing very well the last four years, probably.''
Stricker has been consistent all season. He has two top-three finishes, and aside from a missed cut at the FBR Open in Phoenix, he has finished in the top 25 of his other three tournaments. His 69.67 stroke average is eighth-best on the tour.
Being near the top feels about right to Stricker, though he said he doesn't pay much attention to it. "I look at my stats and I realize I'm up there in stroke average," he said. "It's been consistent, and I'm trying to keep it that way.''
Like Stricker, Watney, 27, has been a model of consistency this season. He won the Buick Invitational and finished second to Phil Mickelson on Sunday at the CA Championship in Miami. He has earned close to $2 million in 21/2 months.
"It doesn't really seem like I'm unconscious or anything,'' Watney said. "It's just kind of the way I'm supposed to be playing. I'm driving it pretty well. Approaching from the fairway makes it much easier. And once I do get into trouble, I'm putting well.''
Neither Stricker nor Watney can afford to look over his shoulder. Several players fired low rounds Friday, including Joe Ogilvie, who had six birdies, and Howell, who had six birdies and an eagle.
"You don't play this course thinking you're going to make a bunch of birdies,'' Howell said. "Maybe that's my problem. But you have to take them when you can get them. Man, there's so many tough par 4s and 3s out here that par is a heck of a score.''
Jonathan Byrd, another in the mix at 5 under, is confident enough to think he could be the last one standing Sunday.
"Making six birdies out there was awesome,'' said Byrd, whose five bogeys dropped him out of the midday lead. "Unfortunately I made some tough swings coming in and missed a few putts. But overall I'm playing fantastic, and hopefully it carries over to the weekend.''