Charles Howell III hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during the second round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament Friday, March 11, 2016, in Palm Harbor, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Brian Blanco
March 12, 2016

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) Jordan Spieth felt as though he could finally breathe easy.

Needing a good round to make the cut at the Valspar Championship, he followed a bogey on the opening hole - the easiest at Innisbrook - with five birdies, three of them from just off the green and the last one a chip-in from 35 feet away on the 15th.

''This was grinding today,'' Spieth said on the 18th tee, a smile indicating that he enjoyed it. ''I've got some good stuff coming on the weekend.''

That was the key word for Spieth - weekend.

Steve Stricker shot a 66 and Will MacKenzie had a 67 to share the lead at 5-under 137, and it doesn't feel like much of a margin at all. Nine players were within two shots of them, and eight shots separated first from worst going into the weekend.

Attribute that to the Copperhead course. For the first time during the Florida swing, no one has gone lower than 66 over the opening two rounds.

''Guys that made the cut can win,'' said Bill Haas, one of three players who was one shot behind.

JORDAN RULES: Coming off ''just one of those rounds'' on Thursday that led to a 76, Spieth looked to be headed for another when he pulled his opening tee shot into a bush, had to take an unplayable lie and work hard just to make bogey. The turnaround began with a 6-iron over the water to 5 feet on the third hole, and he was helped by holing three shots from off the green for birdie.

The most peculiar was on the par-5 fifth hole when he was against the collar. He typically uses putter. This time, he used the leading edge of his sand wedge to roll it into the cup. It was first time Spieth had tried that shot in competition.

''I think I may keep doing that if I get the opportunity,'' he said.

STRICKER'S BACK: Stricker ran in a 60-foot birdie putt on No. 4 and holed out from 150 yards in the 10th fairway for eagle. Two more birdies on the back nine gave him a share of the 36-hole lead, which must feel like foreign territory.

The last time Stricker had at least a share of the lead at the halfway point was four years ago at Kapalua, which he went on to win.

The key for the 49-year-old Stricker is that he feels stronger and healthier. He played only nine times in 2015 because of his reduced schedule and his recovery from back surgery. But he played three straight weeks earlier this year and feels better.

His putting helps, too. He is leading the tournament in the key putting statistic, and he has yet to miss from 7 feet or closer.

WILLIE MAC: Will MacKenzie is excited to be tied for the lead at Innisbrook, especially since he hasn't done that since the 2008 John Deere Classic.

He's also excited about his putting, which has carried him for two days.

''I'm hitting a lot of good, tough shots but I'm also hitting it kind of bad,'' MacKenzie said. ''I just need to clean that up. I know what I'm doing in my golf swing but the putter is just saving my life right now.''

MASTERS ON THEIR MINDS: Charles Howell III made it clear after he shared the 18-hole lead that while the Masters is the most special major for him because he was born and raised in Augusta, Georgia, it's a favorite major of everyone.

Magnolia Lane could weigh heavily this weekend at Innisbrook.

Scott Brown was born in Augusta and lives just across the state line in Aiken, South Carolina. He worked hard Monday on the range with swing coach John Tillery and posted a 69, marred by a late double bogey, to finish two shots behind.

Of the 12 players who were within three shots of the lead, nine of them are not yet eligible for the Masters.

MATCH PLAY HOPES: This is the final week to qualify for the Dell Match Play, and that means the weekend could be important for four players. On the bubble are Ian Poulter, Ryan Palmer and Gary Woodland, and all of them made the cut at the Valspar Championship.

Over in Thailand, former NCAA champion Thomas Pieters of Belgium shot 66 and rallied to make the cut. He's also on the bubble.

Harris English and Webb Simpson were outside the top 66 and missed the cut at Innisbrook, so they can't qualify for the World Golf Championship. The top 66 in the world make the field because Jim Furyk is hurt and Henrik Stenson isn't playing.

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