PONTE VEDRA BEACH (Florida) (AFP) Lee Westwood couldnt be bothered contesting last years Players Championship, but hes sure glad he decided to play this time after taking the second-round lead on Friday. The Englishman took advantage of ideal morning conditions to card a brilliant seven-under par 65 at the Sawgrass TPC. I picked up where I left off yesterday, played very solidly again. I hit a lot of greens, a lot of fairways and made a couple of putts coming in, Westwood said after recording a 12-under 132 halfway total. He led by one stroke from Italian Francesco Molinari (65), Japans Ryuji Imada (66) and American Heath Slocum (66). Westwood aside, the leaderboard was bereft of big names, particularly Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who both shot 71 to fall nine strokes off the pace, equal 46th. Rory McIlroy, who shot a stunning 62 in the final round to win in Charlotte last Sunday, crashed back to earth when he missed the cut by three strokes. I felt I hit it good all week and putted well, said the 21-year-old Northern Irishman, who seems to have struggled to learn the courses nuances in his two appearances. Just a couple of slack shots here and there cost me a chance of playing on the weekend. I tried hard on every shot. I just didnt have it. McIlroy said the course doesnt really fit my eye that well, and admitted he might not have felt compelled to play here but for the 9.5 million-dollar purse. Even though it carries the richest purse in golf, Masters runner-up Westwood last week said he rated the Players Championship perhaps the eighth-biggest tournament in the world. That was probably not what the PGA Tour wanted to hear as they try to promote it as being the fifth major. No doubt aware of his audience, Westwood was a little more diplomatic on Friday. A Players victory would be incredibly important, he said. Its a massive tournament and you look at the list of past winners and theres some great champions. An eagle at the par-five 16th, where he hit a five-iron to three feet, was the highlight of Westwoods round. Molinari, who skipped his national open to make his debut here, was never in danger of dropping a shot. I was just trying to stay away from the trouble, said Molinari, who did so in the best possible way by hitting every green in regulation. Today was just amazing. Im hitting the ball really well at the moment. I just have to be patient and take the chances I have. I was enjoying my week and Im enjoying it a lot now, obviously. Imada, meanwhile, settled his nerves by sinking a seven-foot putt to save par the first and he proceeded to pick up six birdies in a round that included just 23 putts. To have 23 putts, everything has got to go your way, he said. My putting feels great. I dont know the last time it felt this good. Imada is the only Japanese player in the field, because Ryo Ishikawa and Yuta Ikeda declined their invitations. Seventy players made the cut, which fell at two-under 142 after American John Merrick made a rare birdie at the last. Had Merrick parred the 18th, the cut would have been one-under, so in one fell swoop he kicked out 15 players, including British Open champion Stewart Cink, Vijay Singh and defending champion Henrik Stenson. Woods temporarily silenced his critics, who had suggested he might miss successive cuts for the first time in his career, after a pathetic performance in Charlotte last week. Apart from an astonishingly wayward drive right at the par-four 14th that finished in a water hazard next to the adjacent 12th hole, Woods was fairly solid. I wasnt quite as sharp today as yesterday, Woods said. Mickelson was uncharacteristically quiet, with just two birdies and one bogey. It was the boringest round to watch. I apologize to all the TV viewers, he joked.