Former champion Sergio Garcia set the clubhouse target in the prestigious Players Championship as the cream rose to the top in the second round of the £6.1 million event.
World No 267 Roberto Castro held a three-shot lead overnight after equalling the course record of 63 on Thursday, but the little-known American had been overtaken by the time he began his second round at Sawgrass.
Garcia, winner of golf’s so-called unofficial fifth major in 2008, added a 65 to his opening 68 to lie 11-under par, one shot clear of world No 1 Tiger Woods, who carded a second consecutive 67.
Lee Westwood, level-par after 14 holes of his first round, was a shot further back alongside American Kevin Chappell after both players returned a 66 in perfect scoring conditions with Martin Laird, second in this event 12 months ago, sitting on six-under after a 67.
Starting from the tenth, Garcia opened with six straight pars before birdies at the 16th and 18th, and after a bogey on the first picked up five birdies in succession from the second.
Another birdie on the eighth saw the Spaniard home in 31 and in pole position to claim the first prize of just over £1.1m.
Garcia said: “It was good. Yesterday I felt like I scored well and did not play that great. Today I played very very well. I managed to make a whole bunch of putts on the back nine and it was nice to get a good round in. I am looking forward to the weekend.
“(This event) means a lot, it’s the Players, it’s our tournament and I have had the honour of winning it before and have done fairly well here throughout my career. It’s one of my favourite golf courses and that usually helps.
“I feel like the game is good, maybe not spectacular, but I have had a pretty consistent year this year. If I can manage to get as many wins as possible it will be great, if I get one it will be great, if I don’t the only thing I can do is try as hard as I can.”
Westwood also started from the tenth and got off to an ideal start when his pitch to the par-5 11th took once bounce and dived into the hole for an eagle three.
The 40-year-old then birdied the next two holes, the treacherous 18th for the second day running, and picked up another shot on the par-5 second.
“I played well, I haven’t made any bogeys yet this week so that’s a feat in itself round this golf course,” Westwood said. “I’ve given myself a chance at the weekend, I’m in a good position.
“Yesterday I played nicely and gave myself a lot of chances in the first 14 holes and had to be very patient. It would have been easy to get frustrated but I birdied three of the last four holes and picked up in the same vein today, although I missed from four feet on the first.
“I have been playing well for a while and had a chance to win last week. I’ll just keep going through the same things and be patient and wait for good things to happen.”
Woods, who has won three times this year but only once in his professional career at Sawgrass, said: “I thought I did really well today. I thought I hit the ball a little better than I did yesterday and again I missed all the shots on the correct side. I had some funky up and downs but at least I had some room.
“I’m only one back, I have put myself there but we have a long way to go; 36 holes on this golf course is a long way to go.”