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Quite a return on top

Carl Paulson led the Players Championship, but he was just as happy to be playing on the weekend. It's the first time this year.

Paulson missed cuts in his four PGA Tour appearances, and he has a good excuse. He had viral meningitis, an inflammation of the lining between the skull and brain that causes severe headaches.

"They had me in isolation for a couple of days because they weren't sure if it was bacterial meningitis, which is deadly and very contagious," he said. "Luckily, I didn't have that."

A few weeks later, his father had triple-bypass surgery.

With his health in order and his father following him at the TPC-Sawgrass on Friday, Paulson, who lives in Orlando and has never won on tour, shot a second straight 69 to complete 36 holes at 6 under.

"As bad as I had been playing and missing so many cuts and all of that stuff I had gone through, this is a pleasant surprise," said Paulson, whose best tour finish was a tie for second at the 2000 Tampa Bay Classic. "I am just going to go out there and try and stay as relaxed as I can and play."

DALY DUNKS: The driver went into the water, but not because John Daly tossed it there in anger. The clubhead came lose after his tee shot on the 14th, so Daly decided to toss it into the drink, which is where his ball went.

"The head came lose. I figured no sense in keeping it," Daly said.

Daly finished with three straight birdies for 71. But he shot 76 in the first round and likely will miss the cut at 147. The projected cut is 2-over 146.

HUSTON HOPEFUL: After his best finish in more than a year, a tie for third at the Bay Hill Invitational, Clearwater's John Huston put himself in position for another good run at the Players Championship with a second-round 69.

"I'm very pleased," said Huston, who was tied for 11th. "That was real good for me. The conditions were tough. This course can grab you. It's definitely a test of patience."

Huston survived a stretch of bogey, double-bogey and bogey in the first to shoot 73, then came back with 69 for 2-under 142.

DIVOTS: Matt Kuchar, who won the Honda Classic two weeks ago, withdrew after nine holes because of an ankle injury sustained Friday morning playing basketball. After a peaceful first day, Colin Montgomerie heard the hecklers in the second round. "Take the head cover off the club this time," was one of the barbs after a short drive into the fairway at the 16th. He hit his third in the water and shot 76. Miguel Angel Jimenez aced the par-3 17th at the end of the first round, knocking in an 8-iron. There were 17 balls in the water at the par-3 17th, 51 for the tournament.

_ BOB HARIG

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