PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — So much for that soft, gentle TPC Sawgrass.
The Players Championship turned into the test everyone expected all along – and then some – when a perfect storm of hot, dry and windy weather made the putting surfaces faster than they have been all week.
“Man, I felt like I was putting on dance floors out there,” Billy Horschel said. “We all did. Augusta is probably the quickest greens we play all year, and I’m sorry, Sawgrass made those greens look like 8s on the Stimpmeter.”
Jason Day four-putted from 18 feet. Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey five-putted from under 8 feet. The TPC Sawgrass is scary enough with all that water, and players sometimes only feel safe once they get on the putting surfaces.
On this day, that’s where the fun started.
“The balls were going in the hole at a good holing speed,” Adam Scott said. “But if they missed, they were going 9 feet by. They were as quick as they could possibly be to be playable.”
Such conditions are expected at The Players Championship, especially on the weekend. The shock was because of the contrast from the opening two rounds, when the greens were so soft and receptive that it produced a record number of rounds under par for those days in the 35 years the tournament has been at Sawgrass.
And then it shifted to warp speed.
Mark Russell, the tour’s senior vice president of competition, said the preparations didn’t change. All week, the tour has cut the greens twice and rolled them twice. Once the storm-delayed second round ended Saturday morning, the greens were rolled one more time.
The difference was the weather – low humidity, no cloud cover on a hot day and 20 mph wind from a different direction.
“We weren’t expecting a 20 mile-an-hour wind all day, and the humidity 30 percent, not a cloud in the sky,” Russell said. “And they just, you know, sped up on us.”
Scott suggested the tour manipulated the conditions. Russell said that wasn’t the case.
“We weren’t trying to do anything,” Russell said. “We’ve done the same thing we’ve done all week.”
The observations changed as drastically as the greens. For two days, the talk was that this elite championship was playing far too easy. Jason Day on Thursday and Colt Knost on Friday tied the course record at 9-under 63. Day set the 36-hole mark Saturday morning at 15-under 129.
The average score was 71.02 over two days, and it typically goes down on the weekend with only the best players still around. Not this time.
“We always play golf on the edge,” Justin Rose said. “Championship golf is getting it on the knife’s edge. Players want it firm and fast. And then when they get it a little too firm and fast, we hate it. There’s a very fine line there.”
Daniel Berger knew early on what kind of day it was going to be. He had a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 5 that he thought was perfect speed, only for it to roll 12 feet by the hole. There were some greens where the bottom of the putter would slide across the grass because it was so slick.
“You almost needed sticky tape at the bottom of your putter,” he said. “It was such a big difference from yesterday. Putts that would be a foot short were 7 feet by the hole.”
Even though 75 percent of the field made a double bogey or worse, there were some good scores. Ken Duke managed to run off six birdies over his last seven holes for a 65. Hideki Matsuyama made seven birdies in his round of 67.
“It was hard, but not unplayable,” Chad Campbell said after a 78.
But then he paused, smiled and said, “But those were freakin’ fast, man. The Masters might be like this, but only a couple of times.”
Russell said nothing would change for Sunday’s final round, even with concerns that they can let the greens go because they are being torn up and replaced with a different strain of grass after the tournament.
Scott wasn’t buying that the tour would stick to the program and roll them twice on Saturday night.
“A couple more tonight, one in the morning,” he said with a smile. “And then we’ll be ice skating tomorrow.”