Garcia thriving on Sawgrass challenge

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Former champion Sergio Garcia last night set the clubhouse target in the prestigious Players Championship as the cream rose to the top in the second round of the £6.1m event.

World No 267 Roberto Castro held a three-shot lead overnight after equaling the course record of 63 on Thursday, but the little-known American had been overtaken by the time he began his second round at Sawgrass.

Garcia, winner of golf’s so-called unofficial fifth major in 2008, added a 65 to his opening 68 to lie 11 under par, one shot clear of world No 1 Tiger Woods who carded a second consecutive 67.

England’s Lee Westwood, level par after 14 holes of his first round on Thursday, was a shot further back alongside American Kevin Chappell after both players returned a 66 in perfect scoring conditions.

Starting from the 10th, Garcia opened with six straight pars before birdies at the 16th and 18th, and after a bogey on the first picked up five birdies in succession from the second.

Another birdie on the eighth saw the Spaniard home in 31 and in pole position to claim the first prize of just over £1.1m. Garcia said: “It was good. Yesterday I felt like I scored well and did not play that great. Today I played very, very well. I managed to make a whole bunch of putts on the back nine and it was nice to get a good round in. I am looking forward to the weekend.

“(This event) means a lot, it’s the Players, it’s our tournament and I have had the honour of winning it before and have done fairly well here throughout my career. It’s one of my favourite golf courses and that usually helps.

“I feel like the game is good, maybe not spectacular, but I have had a pretty consistent year this year.”

Westwood also started from the 10th and got off to an ideal start when his pitch to the par-five 11th took one bounce and dived into the hole for an eagle three.

The 40-year-old then birdied the next two holes, the treacherous 18th for the second day running and picked up another shot on the par-five second.

“I played well, I haven’t made any bogeys yet this week so that’s a feat in itself round this golf course,” Westwood said. “I’ve given myself a chance at the weekend, I’m in a good position.

“Thursday I played nicely and gave myself a lot of chances in the first 14 holes and had to be very patient. It would have been easy to get frustrated but I birdied three of the last four holes and picked up in the same vain today, although I missed from four feet on the first.

“I have been playing well for a while and had a chance to win last week. I’ll just keep going through the same things and be patient and wait for good things to happen.”