Americans take over at top

Americans take over at top

Martin Laird and Ian Poulter tumbled out of the lead while world number one Rory McIlroy crashed out of golf’s richest event again on Friday.

Laird shot 73 and Poulter 76 to allow Americans Zach Johnson, Kevin Na and Matt Kuchar to take over in front at eight under par in the £5.8million Players Championship at Sawgrass in Florida.

McIlroy did no better than Poulter and, having opened with a 72, he made an early exit from the tournament for the third time in three visits.

Tiger Woods is around for the weekend, though, and not out of the title hunt either.

Down in joint 100th place after his initial 74, Woods appeared in danger of two consecutive missed cuts for the first time in his career.

But in a far more impressive display he had four successive birdies from the eighth, shot 68 and moved up nearly 70 places to two under.

Laird made further good progress until he came to the famed closing stretch.

The Glaswegian found the water with his second shot to the long 16th and then hit a shocking tee shot on the short 17th to find the same lake.

They cost him a bogey six and a double-bogey five and the sad finish was complete when he left a chip well short on the last and bogeyed again to finish six under.

“That’s what this course will do to you,” he said. “I got a bit greedy with a four iron to the 16th – it was a stupid shot – and was between clubs at the 17th.

“A nine iron was too much and a wedge not enough, but I didn’t hit it real solid and the wind got it. It was a bad shot.

“But as big a car crash as I just had, I’m still well in it. I’d have taken my position before the start.”

Poulter’s opening dealt his hopes of the £1million-plus first prize a huge blow.

He went over the green at the 10th – his first of the day – chipped poorly and three-putted for a double bogey.

It was not long before another came. The pin was back right on the short 13th, but Poulter went short left into the water.

The Englishman steadied the ship after that and said: “That was not the start I was looking for. I was staring an ugly one in the face, but I’m still in it.”

By then McIlroy was on his way back to Europe.

“There’s something about this course I can’t quite get to grips with,” said the Northern Irishman, who could lose top spot on the rankings to Luke Donald or Lee Westwood.

“It’s disappointing – I’m not going to lie. I’ve been playing well for the last 12 months. This is my first missed cut for a year.

“I’ll get ready now for the big tournaments coming up.”

Next is the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in a fortnight and his US Open defence is little more than a month away.

He vowed to return next May to try again – last year he skipped the event – but said: “I’m a visual player and I struggle to see the tee shots required here.”

Donald eagled the 16th and second in his 69, while Westwood shot 70.

“It could have been a special round,” Donald said. “I threw in a couple of bad swings, but 69 is not a bad score.

“I am quietly optimistic. I think this course is only going to get tougher and eight or nine under could be a good score come Sunday.”

Westwood said: “I didn’t play as well as yesterday, but shot one better - that’s golf.

“I’m playing all right. I like this course and it suits me.

“I suppose three under is in touch. Hopefully it will firm up and the greens will get quicker.”

Laird was not the only British golfer high up. London’s Brian Davis, also based in the United States, was on six under as well after a 70.

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