Why Sunday’s frigid temperatures were actually a ‘massive’ advantage at the Players
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — There were many layers to Adam Scott’s Sunday at the Players Championship, and almost all of them were clothing.
On Sunday morning, Scott looked as if he’d stumbled out of a ski chalet and through the gates at TPC Sawgrass. He wore two pairs of pants, a jacket, a sweater, a beanie and a neck warmer pulled high above his nose. For a brief period of time, his ungloved hand was his largest uninterrupted stretch of exposed skin.
The temperatures on Players Sunday were freezing, dipping as low as the mid-30s in the day’s wee hours before mercifully rising into the 40s. Spectators brought blankets, players brought hand-warmers, and just about everyone else brought a runny nose.
It was miserable weather — the fourth-straight day of it, by most estimations. But for the pros stuck out in the cold Sunday, it was nothing shy of a godsend.
“I think I saw J.T. hit 6-iron [on the island-green 17th], and there’s a rumor going around he might have actually hit 5,” Will Zalatoris said. “I hit a chip 9 today, so I think that kind of tells you how happy I was playing it this morning.”
After two rounds of play — a feat that required four days — Zalatoris was tied for 12th at four under. But that wasn’t a surprise. Zalatoris, like each of the 11 players ranked on the leaderboard above him, played in the morning wave during Thursday’s opening round.
Most weeks on the PGA Tour, the gap between the morning and afternoon waves is marginal. Any advantage accrued on Thursday morning has typically evaporated by the time the tee times flip the following day.
This week, though, the edge gained by Thursday’s morning group has bordered on unreasonable. After the Thursday A.M. wave slashed through soft, still conditions, the P.M. wave was asked to complete much of round 1 during Friday’s monsoons.
But Friday’s onslaught turned out to be the easy portion of play for the afternoon wave. On Saturday, they returned to the course moments before galeforce gusts triggered the National Weather Service to issue a wind warning. Conditions grew so treacherous, Keegan Bradley — the proud owner of a one-under 71 — called his performance “one of the best rounds of my life.”
Thanks to the weather delays, Thursday morning’s wave ran out of daylight before facing the winds.
“Thursday was the easiest we’re ever going to see this place. No wind, ball in hand, soft greens. Greens are probably a foot and a half slower than we’re used to seeing it here,” Zalatoris said. “The wind is still picking up. It’s not like this is that easy. It’s just easier than what it was yesterday.”
Even in Sunday’s frigid temps, the morning wave found a significantly friendlier Sawgrass on Sunday. It was evident everywhere, but particularly on the famed island-green 17th, where the hurting, right-to-left gusts that forced 19 water balls on Saturday were replaced by a much friendlier, left-to-right breeze.
Sure, it was still freezing. But in this case, most players admitted, freezing was good.
“I thought the course was drying out really nicely,” Zalatoris said of the conditions on Sunday. “The greens are still really soft. The beauty of that is if we’re coming in there with some long irons into the wind, we can stick them as opposed to just hoping they stay on the green.”
That’s a starkly different story than the one told last night by Justin Thomas, whose Saturday 69 was the second-best round in the field.
“It’s one of those days I think could be really fun to play if you’re home,” Thomas “It’s not really fun when it’s TPC Sawgrass for the Players, and you’re kind of around the cut line to start the day. It’s so hard.”
Hard, and probably a little unfair, Harold Varner III agreed.
“It’s massive,” Varner said of the advantage earned by his fellow early-wavers. “Obviously I’m seeing some of the golf yesterday and just seeing some of the shots. Those guys are some of, if not the best players in the world right now, seeing some of the shots they hit. Super fortunate with our wave. Sometimes it works out that way, but if you don’t take advantage of it, it doesn’t matter.”
The playing field will even itself at long last on Sunday afternoon. For the first time all week, every player in the field will face the same golf course at roughly the same time. For those like Bubba Watson who survived Saturday’s carnage, there’s a real opportunity to make a (delayed) moving day charge.
It’ll be warmer then, but fairer? It might already be too late.
“When you’re looking at the leaderboard thinking about the first wave of guys that didn’t even play today,” Watson said yesterday. “When you think about that, you’re just like, ‘man, if I’d have just had a different tee time, I might have done better.’”