PONTE VEDRA BEACH — David Toms has gone five years without winning and 10 years since his lone major at the PGA Championship.
Now he has to fend off a host of players who have won big events a lot more recently.
Toms went 25 holes before making bogey Friday and countered with enough good shots for 4-under 68, giving him a one-shot lead over Nick Watney going into the weekend at TPC Sawgrass.
Watney won a World Golf Championship two months ago at Doral. Despite missing four birdie putts inside 12 feet on his last seven holes Friday, he got into the final group.
Luke Donald, the World Golf Championship winner at Arizona in February, became the first player since 2004 to make it around Sawgrass without a bogey for the first 36 holes. He birdied the island-green 17th and shot 67 to finish two shots back.
Others two shots behind:
• U.S. Open champion and Ryder Cup star Graeme McDowell (69).
• Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover (71), who won last week at Quail Hollow.
• Steve Stricker (67), who has won two FedEx Cup playoff events and has become a regular among the top 10 in the world.
"Whoever plays the best on the weekend," Glover said.
Toms quit trying to be perfect on a course that looks like it demands no less. It led to nearly perfect play over two days at the Players Championship.
Toms doesn't have a great record at TPC Sawgrass. In 18 previous attempts, he has missed the cut 10 times and only once has finished in the top 10. He just couldn't figure out the right angle into the greens and always believed it had to be just right.
"It seemed early in my career around here I was always trying to play the perfect shot," he said. "I think the last few years, I've just learned to try to play my game, my shot … rather than trying to hit the perfect shot on the golf course."
Meanwhile, Watney started the back nine with back-to-back birdies then gave himself a chance on every hole. He missed four birdie putts inside 12 feet over his last seven holes, settling for 71 after opening with 64.
"I'm not exactly happy," Watney said, before ending his remarks with, "I'm excited where I am."
Toms was at 10-under 134, leading a quality list of contenders at the biggest event of golf's strongest tour.
Looming particularly large was Donald, the Englishman who can go to No. 1 in the world with a victory. And so far, he hasn't made bogey all week.
"I think it's an accomplishment anywhere," Donald said. "This is a tough course. There is a lot of danger lurking. It is pretty easy to slip up around this course. So it's pretty satisfying to go without making a bogey 36 holes."
Four major champions are among the top 10 — one of them is Ryder Cup captain Davis Love, a two-time winner of the Players who was three back. All but Toms among the top six have won tournaments in the past year.
But fortunes can change quickly, and so can confidence.
McDowell missed three of his past four cuts on the PGA Tour before the Players, and he was starting to wonder what was going wrong.
"You go through a spell like I've just gone through where I just couldn't piece anything together, you have crazy thoughts. 'Will I ever win again? Will I ever be in contention again? Am I done? Am I finished?' It's just the craziness of this sport," he said. "You never know what's around the corner."