Streak is intact, but Woods has work cut out at Players

Run of making cut at 120, but co-leaders are 9 away

March 27, 2004|By Steve Elling | Steve Elling,ORLANDO SENTINEL

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Kevin Sutherland's white golf towel, always in his possession when he navigates a PGA Tour course, has developed into a personal trademark.

Never waving the white towel remains Tiger Woods' calling card.

Sutherland, who shot a 69 yesterday, and Jerry Kelly, who had the day's best round of 66, share the lead at 9-under-par 135 in the $8 million Players Championship, two strokes ahead of Ernie Els and Adam Scott.

After a second-round rally by Woods, they all can count the world's top-ranked player among their pursuers.

After recording four consecutive rounds over par dating to his last event, Woods fought back with a scrambling, 3-under 69 to extend his PGA Tour-record streak of consecutive cuts to 120.

At even par overall, he moved from 108th place into a tie for 44th and stands nine strokes behind the leaders.

Though it wasn't always a thing of beauty, Woods made the cut by three shots.

"You know how I am," he said. "I take great pride in what I do on that golf course. I go out there and give it absolutely everything I've got. Some days, it's not very good; other days it's pretty good."

Kelly, an ex-hockey player, remains the lone player in the field without a bogey. He hardly batted an eye when informed that Woods would be shadowing him over the weekend. Again.

"I'm not surprised at all," Kelly said. "I almost expected to see him on the leader board."

It's a solid board, anyway. In addition to Els and Scott, heavyweights Vijay Singh, Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson all reside in the top seven, setting up a potentially gripping weekend.

And then there's Sutherland.

Though he doesn't have the cachet of the aforementioned leaders, Sutherland, a veteran who has one victory to his credit, is usually hard to miss.

He won't play without his golfing security blanket in hand. He can't remember when the habit started, exactly.

"How old am I?" said Sutherland, who is ranked No. 131 in the world. "It's definitely a part of my routine."

Sort of like playing on the weekend for Woods. The obits had been prepared in case the cut streak was ended, but Woods persevered.

Mike Weir, who owned the second-longest cut streak with 19 in a row entering the week, was sent packing yesterday at 5 over, which means Kelly (16 straight) now owns the No. 2 spot.

"I think one thing that people don't realize is what [Jack] Nicklaus used to always say, and [Ben] Hogan used to always say, is that you can't turn the switch on and off," Woods said. "You've got to always have it on."

Els mounted a nice comeback himself. After having his cut streak ended at 30 last week, he shot 69 to move to 7 under. Els has never finished better than eighth in 10 previous appearances at Sawgrass.

"To be honest, I've never really had a great time around here," he said with a laugh. "My ball-striking, touch wood, has been very good, you know?"

Ranked No. 2 in the world, one spot above Els, Singh, a Ponte Vedra resident, is six back after a 68. He missed the cut here the previous two years.

"I really just took it easy and didn't care too much about how good or how bad I was playing," he said. "I just tried to relax and play the game.

"Probably on the weekend I'm going to get a little more serious, but I just want to enjoy this week. I've put too much pressure on myself so many times over here and that kind of backfired."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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