Westwood pips Imada for lead

Westwood pips Imada for lead

Golf : Players Championship: Woods battles to avoid missing cut

Westwood pips Imada for lead

ON TOP: England’s Lee Westwood tees off on the ninth hole in the second round of the Players Championship on Friday. AFP

On another surprisingly calm day with receptive conditions at the TPC Sawgrass, world number four Westwood eagled the par-five 16th en route to a sparkling seven-under-par 65 at the tournament dubbed the 'fifth major'.

The Englishman broke clear at the top of a congested leaderboard by rolling in a 19-foot birdie putt at the par-four seventh, his third-last hole, to post a 12-under total of 132.

That left Westwood a stroke in front of Japan's Ryuji Imada (66), Italian Francesco Molinari (65) and American Heath Slocum (66). US Open champion Lucas Glover was a further two shots back at nine under after a flawless 65 that also featured an eagle on 16. World number one Woods ground out a 71 to lie nine strokes off the pace.

Although his driving was erratic, the 14-times major champion recorded five birdies along with two bogeys and a double-bogey at the difficult 14th.

A week after missing the cut by a staggering eight shots at the Quail Hollow Championship in North Carolina, Woods at least avoided the embarrassment of a second consecutive early exit.

Westwood, whose only PGA Tour victory came at the 1998 New Orleans Classic, was delighted to be in position to clinch one of golf's most prestigious titles.

US Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who could take over as world number one for the first time if he wins this week and Woods finishes outside the top five, carded a 71 to end the day level with his American rival. The cut fell at two under with 70 players advancing. Among those missing out were multiple major winners Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy, who won his maiden PGA Tour title last week at Quail Hollow.
For a while, it seemed those at one under would squeeze through but late in the day American John Merrick holed a 13-foot birdie putt at the last to eliminate Masters champion Angel Cabrera, British Open winner Stewart Cink and former world number one Vijay Singh among others.