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PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP Harrington has two-shot lead



Published: Tue, April 1, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Tiger Woods rallied with three birdies and is seven shots back.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Padraig Harrington had a sore hip caused by a bum ankle, couldn't hit the ball straight and wound up leading The Players Championship.

Craig Perks woke up to learn that his caddie was in jail, asked a chaplain to carry his bag until he could find a replacement and wound up in contention.

About the only normalcy on a long, strange day at Sawgrass was Tiger Woods.

On the verge of missing the cut, he answered with three quick birdies and remains a factor.

"You can never be surprised," Harrington said after making 10 birdies in 26 holes, giving him rounds of 67-68 and a two-stroke lead in golf's first big event of the year.

Harrington was on the practice range when darkness suspended the second round, with 27 players unable to finish.

Three tied for second

He was at 9-under 135 and had a two-stroke lead over Perks (69), Davis Love III (67) and Skip Kendall (69), who has yet to make bogey on the TPC at Sawgrass.

Woods had an 8-foot par putt on his 10th hole and was in jeopardy of falling below the cut line. He made that, plus three birdies in the next four holes, for a 70 to finish seven strokes back going into the weekend.

The cut likely will be even par when the second round is completed this morning, the lowest since it was 2 under in 1996.

"I didn't know what the cut was," Woods said. "We thought it would be about 1 or 2 [over]. Evidently, it dropped, which is kind of remarkable on this golf course."

Indeed, it was a remarkable day.

Fred Couples woke up early and turned back the clock, polishing off a 5-under 67 in the morning to share the first-round lead with Harrington.

Couples in contention

Couples, a two-time winner at The Players Championship and still the crowd favorite, had a 71 in the second round and was at 6-under 138, along with 22-year-old Adam Scott (69) and 49-year-old Jay Haas (70).

"I know not everyone and his brother is worried about what I'm shooting, but I'm worried about it," Couples said. "I'm playing well right now."

The biggest worry belonged to Perks, the longshot winner at Sawgrass last year who has been hearing all week how he has no chance to repeat.

He had to finish five holes Friday morning because of the rain delay. The problem was finding someone to carry his bag.

His caddie, Rodney Erb, was stopped for speeding Thursday night and police discovered an outstanding warrant for worthless checks. A Duval County jail spokesman said Erb spent the night in jail before posting bond for $513.

Meantime, Perks summoned The Rev. George Woods, a chaplain for the caddies, to tote his bag in the morning, then used veteran caddie Tony Lingard in the afternoon.

"My voice must have sounded like that of a crazed woman," said wife Maureen Perks, who called Lingard at home.

"I wouldn't call it an exciting day. Until Craig went birdie-eagle, I don't think I relaxed."

Perks didn't have much to say about Erb, only that he would have a long talk with him Friday night and that his caddie would be back to work today.

For Woods -- the chaplain, not the world's No. 1 player -- it was an exciting opportunity.

"I told him, 'I'll clean your clubs and stay out of the way,' " he said.

The more famous Woods was spinning his wheels over nine holes. A two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th was followed by a three-putt birdie on the island-green 17th, and he was getting dangerously close to missing the cut.

Woods started hitting it close, making three birdie putts from inside 10 feet and having two others horseshoe around the cup.

"I'm not going to analyze it," Woods said of his round. "You just move on."

Harrington is in position to become only the second European -- joining Sandy Lyle of Scotland in 1987 -- to win The Players Championship.




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