PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – In a week that has seen the Stadium Course give up lower scores than usual, Webb Simpson went as low as anyone ever has, matching the course record with a 63, to take a five stroke lead at The Players Championship.
Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, eagled the second hole, then proceeded to birdie 5, 7, and 9 to shoot 31 on the front side. Then, on 11, he began a stretch of 6 straight holes with a birdie.
Simpson matched the mark first set by Fred Couples in 1992, and matched by Greg Norman in 1994, Roberto Castro in 2013, Martin Kaymer in 2014 and Jason Day and Colt Knost in 2016.
"When you're out there competing in a big tournament, you're as focused as can be, but then at a certain point, maybe on 13 today, you start just -- like a kid, just kind of laughing. Everything is going in," Simpson said. "You feel like no matter what, you're going to make it."
Simpson's caddie Paul Tesori, who went to St. Augustine high school and still lives in Nocatee, said that he thought that Simpson was putting better than he ever had.
Well, that was fun today! #63— Paul Tesori (@PaulTesori) May 12, 2018
I can’t wait to #pinkout4DONNA with @webbsimpson1, @mrstesori, Isaiah on Sunday. Come root us on & rock your pink! I Pink Out for DONNA because we lost our friend Apryle to breast cancer. #THEPLAYERS @262withDonna #forApryle
Simpson's day could have been even better if not for his tee shot on the island green 17th. His sand wedge landed on the bulkhead in the front of hte green, bounded onto the putting surface and rolled off the back. He settled for a double-bogey.
After a record-setting day for scoring on Thursday, a few golfers took advantage of early tee times, including Charl Schwartzel and Patrick Cantlay who shared the second-round lead at 10-under par after the morning tee times have concluded.
Schwartzel, whose best moment came when he won the Masters in 2011, posted three birdies on both the front nine and the back nine to be the first in the clubhouse at minus-10. He said that he expected the course to continue to play tougher and tougher as time goes on.
"I think it's easier in the morning," Schwartzel said. "Yesterday afternoon, (the) course was firm, couldn't even find pitch marks on the greens. This morning making big pitch marks. So it was definitely more scorable in the morning. The course is just going to get harder. The weather report looked like it's not going to rain tomorrow and probably not Sunday either. If that's the case, then this golf course over the weekend will turn into a beast."
Schwartzel was joined at 10-under by Patrick Cantlay, who birdied his first three holes en route to a 68. Cantlay was one of six golfers who began the second round tied for the lead after an opening round 66.
"It was very satisfying. I played really well all day," Cantlay said. "I hit a lot of solid shots and stuck to my game plan, definitely felt comfortable, which was nice. I really like the golf course, so I'm looking forward to the weekend."
Chesson Hadley had a chance to put some distance between himself and the field. After birdies on 15 and 16, Hadley went to the island green 17 at 12-under par. But he hit his tee shot in the water on the par three and settled for double bogey. Then on the 18th, his approach shot landed in the greenside mounds. Then his chip came up short. He bogeyed to finish with a 69 and at 9-under par for the tournament.