Wyndham Clark takes control at The Players Championship

AP photo by Lynne Sladky / Wyndham Clark follows through on a shot during the second round of The Players Championship on Friday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
AP photo by Lynne Sladky / Wyndham Clark follows through on a shot during the second round of The Players Championship on Friday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Scottie Scheffler posted his 25th consecutive round under par Friday, and this was hard work.

He felt pain in his neck that required treatment on the course, and he struggled to swing and to stay within range of Wyndham Clark.

Feeling fit or not, that turned out to be the goal for everyone on the second day of The Players Championship.

Clark was playing in the group behind, oblivious to Scheffler's injury or anything else on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. He ran off four straight birdies on the front nine and finished with a 7-under-par 65 to move to 14-under 130, one shot short of the 36-hole record for the course set by Webb Simpson at the 2018 edition of The Players Championship.

Clark had a four-shot lead over Xander Schauffele (69) and Nick Taylor (68), who played in the afternoon and had to cope with warm, breezy conditions on greens that remained surprisingly soft.

Scheffler was simply happy to be done. He felt something wrong on his fourth full swing of the day, a shot that went left on the par-5 11th and kept him from a good look at birdie. He got treatment before his tee shots on three straight holes and managed a 3-under 69.

"I felt a little something in my neck, and then I tried to hit my tee shot on 12, and that's when I could barely get the club back," Scheffler said through a PGA Tour official. "So I got some treatment, maybe loosened it up a tiny bit. But most of the day, I was pretty much laboring to get the club somehow away from me."

Scheffler hoped to have free range by the weekend as he seeks to become the first repeat champion at this tournament, which is in its 50th edition. Already No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, he appeared to be hitting another gear — he was coming off a five-shot victory Sunday in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club in Orlando — until this injury interruption.

  photo  AP photo by Marta Lavandier / Harris English hits from the rough along the 11th fairway of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass during the second round of The Players Championship on Friday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Clark is proving each week to be a serious challenger, no matter Scheffler's condition.

The reigning U.S. Open champion already shot a 60 at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am last month to win in 54 holes because of weather, and he was the only player who mounted any challenge against Scheffler at Bay Hill last weekend, finishing as the runner-up.

Friday at TPC Sawgrass, Clark got through the back nine — his first nine — on another calm, sunny morning in 1 under, then started hitting everything close to perfect: a wedge shot to 18 inches on No. 1, a simple up-and-down finish for birdie on the par-5 second, a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 third, and a wedge to four feet on the fourth hole.

"I'm just super excited that kind of had a ho-hum front nine," Clark said, "and then turned, and really just got into a nice zone and felt really good on the greens and shot an awesome number.

He closed with a birdie for a 30 on the front nine.

Schauffele has only one blunder through 36 holes, a hybrid he hit into the water on the par-5 11th that led to a double bogey. He got that back with a 7-iron into the par-5 16th for an eagle and at least worked his way into the final group.

He got there with a 6-iron shot off the pine straw and under the trees onto the 18th green for par.

"I wanted to be in the final group as often as possible, especially being four shots back," Schauffele said.

Taylor had three bogeys, each time answering with a birdie to stay in the mix at 10 under, one shot ahead of Matt Fitzpatrick (69) and Maverick McNealy (68).

Scheffler was in the group at 8 under, and by the sound of it, he was happy to be there.

"I did enough to keep myself somewhat in the tournament, and so that's really all I could ask for," Scheffler said. "The way I was getting around the course, the way my neck was feeling, I didn't know if I was going to be able to continue playing. So yeah, good fight out there."

At least he's still playing. Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas were among those set to miss the cut — Spieth for the sixth time in 10 appearances at this event, Thomas for the first time. The second round, suspended by darkness, was set to be completed Saturday morning.

All four Baylor School graduates on the PGA Tour were in what was a 144-player field at the start, and at least two will be around for the weekend, with Harris English tied for 14th at 6 under after his second straight 69 and Keith Mitchell (71) tied for 27th at 4 under. Stephan Jaeger (72) and Luke List (75) were at par with the projected cut at 1 under.

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