He still tied the record with a 9-under 63, and he had a five-shot lead, the largest in the 45 years of this tournament.
He was in no mood to let that sour his mood.
Woods missed a great chance to get back to nine under at the 16th as he misread a birdie putt from eight feet, and he safely negotiated the 17th in par before he drilled a sublime second to the rear fringe at the last. At that point, all he could was laugh. If it's not, though, there will be several golfers sitting (way) back looking to overtake him at the finish line.
He said afterward he felt this was a stepping stone for him.
"Everything is going in", he said.
"You're at TPC Sawgrass", he said.
And it will be there over the next two rounds.
Simpson's seven-shot lead set a record at The Players, and he has plenty of history on his side.
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The pair were still some way off the lead with leader Webb Simpson, who tees off later on Saturday, at 15 under.
If there was any disappointment, Tiger Woods said, it was in getting himself to eight-under through 12 but settling for a seven-under round.
He made his only bogey at the 14th before posting four closing pars to be tied for the clubhouse lead with Spieth, who also posted a 65. Spieth three-putted from 35 feet, though he shot 68 and ended three straight years missing the cut. Simpson took that to another level. The most impressive shot of his day (and possibly the one that shut down this tournament) came on the par-5 11th. And then he saw a leaderboard.
"Just got to keep my hat down and play my own game", Lee said. "We were talking about it throughout the round, all three of us". "I tried to smash a sand wedge and blocked it a little bit".
The real challenge will be catching Simpson. All of them went on to win. As it is, they each trail by 11 strokes. Former world No 1 Jason Day of Australia was in a group of five on 207 - but the tournament is Simpson's to lose. "It's a miracle round". He finished the day with a par putt from 18 feet. But 17 is a hard hole to get through.
Woods had his best round on the Stadium Course with a 65 despite playing the final six holes in 1 over.
It was a disappointing day for Dustin Johnson, who dropped down the leaderboard after shooting an even-par 71.
Jordan Spieth (68) and Justin Thomas (70), also squeaked into the weekend while Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson all missed the cut. I didn't have to worry about that for 10, 12 years, but the last year or so it had gone off with my eyes. "And I didn't quite have the shape, ball flight". Still, D.J. has the most horsepower of the chasers and thus the best shot to upend the leader.