PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida, May 10 (Reuters) - Sergio Garcia roared into the Players Championship lead with Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood close behind early in the second round as star power returned to the top of the leaderboard on Friday.
Garcia, Woods and Westwood led a scoring parade as eagles and birdies flew all around TPC Sawgrass on a steamy day in what is widely regarded as golf’s unofficial fifth major.
Garcia, the 2008 champion, fired a sizzling seven-under 65 to post an 11-under total of 133 that left him one shot ahead of Woods (67), who sank an 18-foot birdie putt at his final hole, the par-five ninth.
Another shot back was Westwood and 26-year-old American Kevin Chappell, who shot matching 66s.
Roberto Castro had set the pace in the opening round with a course-record-tying nine-under 63 for a three-shot lead, but the little-known American’s advantage vanished before he teed off in the second round’s afternoon wave.
World number one Woods, rounding into top form this year with a tour-leading three victories, began the day four shots back but gained a share of the lead at nine-under when he sank a 20-foot eagle putt on the par-five second, his 11th hole.
He surged into the lead with a birdie two holes later and was joined at 10-under by Garcia when the Spaniard capped a streak of five consecutive birdies by rolling in a 26-footer at the par-three sixth, his 15th hole of the day.
Garcia climbed to 11 under par at the par-three eighth when he drained a 40-footer for birdie.
Woods lost a stroke when he bogeyed the par-four seventh after driving into the right rough but the 14-times major winner made the shot back with his closing birdie.
Westwood, also starting on the back nine, jump-started his round with an eagle at the par-five 11th and birdies at the next two holes.
Flying the banner for the lesser-known players, Chappell’s round also included an eagle at the 11th.
Australian Marc Leishman got into the act with an unusual eagle, holing out from 172 yards at the par-four 18th that left him with a six-under 66 and a two-day 138 total.
Defending champion Matt Kuchar, playing with Woods, shot a six-under 66 for a seven-under 137 total, one shot back of fellow American Ryan Palmer (69).
Four-times major champion Phil Mickelson was in danger of missing the cut, projected at one-under, after his one-over 73 left him with a one-over total of 145. (Editing by Frank Pingue)