PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida - World number one Rory McIlroy is almost certain to miss the cut at the Players Championship after a four-over 76 on Friday while American Zach Johnson stormed into the early clubhouse lead.

McIlroy has had a miserable record at the TPC Sawgrass course, where he missed the cut in his previous two appearances at the venue before skipping the event last year.

The Northern Irishman has not missed a cut since last year's Wells Fargo Championship but, after carding five bogeys and one birdie on Friday for a two-day total of 148, he risks missing the cut, which is projected to fall at even-par 144.

“There is something about this place I just can't get to grips with,” McIlroy told reporters. “I just need to try and get the hang of this golf course somehow, it's just - I find it pretty difficult but it's just one of those weeks.”

Another big name, Tiger Woods, is also fighting to avoid missing successive cuts for the first time in his professional career after shooting a two-over-par 74 in his opening round.

Woods, who failed to make the weekend at Quail Hollow last week, was among the later groups to tee off on Friday.

Johnson, the 2007 Masters winner, got off to a great start with three birdies in the opening four holes but he will be disappointed to have ended with a bogey on the 18th for a six-under 66.

The 36-year-old headed into the clubhouse with a two-stroke lead over a pack of golfers including South Korea's Charlie Wi (67), American Jonathan Byrd (70), Australian Adam Scott (70) and Britain's Brian Davis (70).

Martin Laird shared the overnight lead with Ian Poulter but dropped to two shots off the pace after returning a one-over 73, his solid effort undone by a double-bogey on the 'island green' 17th where he found water and then a bogey on the 18th.

Poulter, who was among the late starters, opened his second round on the back nine and was two-over after a double-bogey on his first hole. – Reuters