PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA. – Much like his entire career, Jerry Kelly was just another player on the golf course Friday at The Players Championship.
What most everyone missed was Kelly carving up the front nine with five birdies that carried him to a 7-under-par 65, giving him the low round this week and share of the lead with Kevin Na.
"I enjoy adrenaline," Kelly said. "I am 48. I know it almost ravages the body as much as it helps it as you start getting older, but I would like to hang out for another couple of days and have some fun with it."
Kelly and Na, who settled down after a wild start for a 69, where at 8-under 136. Both have some history on this golf course.
Na was the 54-hole lead at The Players three years ago until he faded under intense scrutiny of serious swing issues.
Kelly. a Madison, Wis., native, had a two-shot lead over Tiger Woods in 2001 going into a final round that took two days to complete because of storms. Woods went on to win, and two weeks later he completed his grand sweep of the majors at Augusta National.
"I figured I would have another chance at this golf course," Kelly said. "I didn't think it would be that long, but it's just strange. This whole career has gone by in the blink of an eye."
Fourteen years later, Kelly and Woods are in different roles.
Woods, in his first start since he showed a strong short-game recovery at the Masters, kept the biggest gallery wondering how much longer they would see him when he flirted with missing the cut until he made a putt that mattered, a 10-foot birdie on the par-5 ninth hole that allowed him to stick around for two more days. He is at even-par 144, eight shots behind Kelly, after a 71.
"I feel like I'm playing well enough to get myself up there," Woods said. "I just need one good round and narrow up that gap between myself and the lead, and I feel like I can do that."
Kelly and Na were two shots clear of Rickie Fowler (69), Chris Kirk (68), David Hearn (71) and Branden Grace (67).
In the afternoon, Rory McIlroy made it easy on himself — by his standard at the TPC Sawgrass — with a dull round of 71 that kept him in contention. Dull can be good on the Stadium Course that meted out its share of punishment.
McIlroy was in a featured grouping of the new generation, but the other two — Masters champion Jordan Spieth and Jason Day — now are old news. Spieth spent too much time trying to save par and finished with a meaningless bogey for a 72, missing the cut by three shots. Day started the second round tied with McIlroy and had two 7s on his card within four holes. He closed with a double bogey for an 81.
Phil Mickelson, who played in the group ahead of Woods, had two 6s and a 7 on his way to a 76 and missed the cut for the third year in a row.
"I was thinking to myself as I was walking around, 'I can't believe I've actually won here,' you know?" Mickelson said.