x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Poulter makes his move at Sawgrass

Ian Poulter conquered the par-fives at TPC Sawgrass on Friday and saw his fortunes prosper at The Players Championship.

Ian Poulter is in a strong position at the halfway stage of TPC Sawgrass.
Ian Poulter is in a strong position at the halfway stage of TPC Sawgrass.

Ian Poulter conquered the par-fives at TPC Sawgrass on Friday and saw his fortunes prosper at The Players Championship. The Englishman will go into the third round today two strokes behind the halfway leader Alex Cejka of Germany thanks to a second-round, four-under-par 68 around the 7,215-yard Players Stadium Course near Jacksonville, Florida. In a round of five birdies and one bogey, Poulter went around the four par fives in three under, compared with level par in round one. "I think it was key to try and take advantage of the par-fives today and certainly what I didn't do yesterday," Poulter said. "If I could do that playing the way I've been playing and taking advantage of a couple of the par fours then I can shoot a good score, and that's what I did.

"I birdied three of them and made a great par on the second hole." Poulter, who tied for fifth place at last week's Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina, was also pleased to have carded just one bogey for the second day in a row. "It's been solid the last few weeks and it's been nice to bring that into The Players and play well," he added. "I enjoy the golf course. I enjoy the test. I enjoy some of the tee shots which capture your attention. You have to step up and hit a decent tee shot at certain times, you know, I enjoy playing under pressure." On a good day for the Europeans, Cejka was the star of the show. Still searching for his maiden PGA Tour victory after playing full time in the United States since 2003, he began the day at six under par, a shot behind the overnight leader Ben Crane.

Cejka, 39, quickly moved past his American rival with three birdies in a row over the first four holes and went on to shoot a 67, 11 under for the tournament despite needing an epidural injection to ease the pain in his neck. "I had a pinched nerve and I had a numb arm for three weeks," Cejka said. "So they had to go in there and put some cortizone shot in the nerve, so it's healing better. "It's still not 100 per cent but I feel my hand, so that's a good sign." While Poulter is lying two shots back, the Americans Kevin Na, John Mallinger and Jason Dufner were at seven under along with David Toms, who shot a 70, the Masters champion Angel Cabrera, who shot a 65 and Henrik Stenson of Sweden (69). A double bogey at the par-four 18th left Crane with a 73, leaving him at six under in a group also including Sweden's Richard S Johnson.

Camilo Villegas of Colombia had got to seven under before a double bogey at the par-five 16th led to a level-par 73, five under at the halfway stage, and England's Paul Casey will also start the third round at five under following a five-birdie, two-bogey 69. Sweden's Daniel Chopra staged a remarkable bounce back from an opening-round 75 to shoot a 65 and end the day at four under alongside the Englishman Brian Davis, following a 71, and the world number one Tiger Woods of the USA, who shot a 69. Justin Rose had got to six under for the week with five to play before a double bogey and bogey sent him back to three under following a 71. Scotland's Martin Laird made it into the weekend with a level-par round of 72 that kept him at one under for the tournament while the defending champion Sergio Garcia was at level par following a 73. Graeme McDowell was struggling over the closing holes, the Northern Irishman falling to one over with bogeys at the 14th and 17th holes before sneaking back to level par with a birdie three at the last. Ireland's Padraig Harrington posted a second consecutive 72 to remain at level par, which was the projected cut mark, while Phil Mickelson, the 2007 Players champion, needed a birdie at the par-five ninth, his last hole, to reach the clubhouse at level par following a 71.

Despite an eagle at the same hole, the 2004 champion Adam Scott could only finish with 74, at one over for the week but Luke Donald of England did enough on his back nine to sneak into the weekend. Donald had been at three over at the turn but a run of four birdies got him into the weekend and despite a bogey at his 17th hole, he stayed the course for a 70 to end the day at level par. Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy had also begun at two over but the 20-year-old shot a 77, finishing with a double bogey at the ninth, to end his week at seven over. He will now head back to Europe for next week's Irish Open, as will the Englishman Ross Fisher, who finished with a 74 to end his week at four over. *PA Sport