5 takeaways after 36 holes at The Players Championship

Photo of 5 takeaways after 36 holes at The Players Championship
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The leaderboard is wide-ranging through 36 holes at The Players Championship. Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood hold a three-shot edge over veterans Jim Furyk and Ian Poulter, with plenty of big names lurking.

The tournament remains wide open, even with two elite players leading. Drastic changes on the leaderboard can occur out of nowhere thanks to the endless water hazards at TPC Sawgrass.

With the stage for a fantastic finish set, here are the biggest takeaways at the halfway point of The Players.

Rory continues to knock loudly

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With his three-shot lead after 36 holes, McIlroy is in a familiar position heading into the weekend. It'll be the sixth time in his last 10 rounds he's been inside the top two on a leaderboard. McIlroy has also played in three final groups this year, finishing no worse than sixth. And yet, he has zero wins to show for it.

However, this week the Northern Irishman looks poised to break through. He's gained 9.5 strokes tee to green while putting together two solid putting rounds.

Fleetwood is McIlroy's only true threat. If the 29-year-old's current form carries into the weekend, he should coast to his first Players Championship win.

Tiger was so close to contending

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Through two rounds, Tiger Woods has put together 35 impressive holes. Unfortunately, the all-important 36th is proving costly.

Woods was within two shots of the lead on Friday when he took on the famous island green at TPC Sawgrass. He proceeded to dunk two balls into the water, making a quadruple bogey and plummeting down the leaderboard.

Woods' driving has been the highlight of his opening two rounds. He ranks 12th in the field in strokes gained: off the tee, which is generally his biggest weakness. He also ranks a respectable 22nd in putting.

He may be well out of contention at The Players, but Woods is appearing healthy and confident. Tiger's focus likely shifts toward early April now, when he'll look to slip on a fifth green jacket.

Fleetwood primed for breakthrough

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Fleetwood is in great shape to claim his first PGA Tour win.

After four wins on the European Tour, a victory on American soil is the clear next step in his career. He holds the 36-hole lead for the second week in a row and is coming off of a third-place tie at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a finish that could have been better if not for a poor third round.

The Englishman must avoid an over-par round this weekend, a common theme during Fleetwood's events on the PGA Tour. He'll also have to hope McIlroy continues his trend of falling short despite playing well. Rory has converted 11 final groups into only one win since 2016. Fleetwood needs that to become 12.

Phil should have stayed home

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Prior to The Players, Phil Mickelson said the PGA Tour's most prestigious event is "not a must play," and he was 50-50 about participating up until late last week. After firing back-to-back 74s, perhaps the wise move was to stay home.

Despite favorably comparing the new, shorter rough at Sawgrass to Augusta's rough, Lefty's struggles at The Players continued, as he missed the cut for the sixth time in his last seven tournament appearances. He's the 2007 Players champion, but this year could mark the last time Mickelson takes on TPC Sawgrass.

Diversity atop Sawgrass leaderboard

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TPC Sawgrass is again proving to be one of the fairest tests on the PGA Tour schedule. The top of the leaderboard features a plethora of contrasting styles, from bombers like McIlroy, Fleetwood, and Keith Mitchell, to the short accuracy-type plodders like Furyk, Poulter, and Kevin Kisner.

Pete Dye's most famous design never discriminates, and it seems to always reward a variety of players. With the wind expected to change directions for the tournament's weekend rounds and make the tough holes even more difficult, the cream will rise to the top, regardless of a golfer's skill set.

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