PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — In the end, the pros survived Players Championship Saturday.
Three of them.
Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley represented all three members of the afternoon group who escaped TPC Sawgrass’ blustering winds and frigid temperatures unscathed on Saturday. But that doesn’t mean they liked it.
“I mean, this is probably my best round, one of the best rounds of my life, honestly,” Bradley said afterward. “This is as tough as golf as you’re ever going to play. This is a course you want to play under no conditions because of how tough the shots are, and to play in this wind, to play like that, that was really, really a special round.”
‘Really, really special’ to describe … a 71. That’s how things were on Saturday at TPC Sawgrass, where two days of rain zapped the course of its firmness and 30 mph winds removed every chance of playing the ball in the air.
While the remainder of the 70 or so playing Saturday afternoon managed plugged lies, water balls and abject torture, Watson (68), Thomas (69) and Bradley (71) managed 10 birdies to only a single double-bogey. All three men stand under-par at the 36-hole mark, which isn’t supposed to be as much of an accomplishment as it is.
“The golf course was never to the edge, the balls never rolled on the greens,” Watson said. “It’s just hard, right?”
“It’s one of those days I think could be really fun to play if you’re home,” Thomas added. “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.”
Tough indeed. And tough to swallow for those like Thomas, Bradley and Watson who found themselves on the hard side of the draw. While the early morning groups on Thursday faced tame, even friendly scoring conditions, the evening groups faced Saturday in the blender.
“When you’re looking at the leaderboard thinking about the first wave of guys that didn’t even play today,” Watson said. “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.”
But for those forced to play in Saturday’s Open Championship-like gusts, brainpower was largely focused upon the golf course. Thomas said he played a 5-iron off the tee on the 130-yard 17th, while Watson played a 5-iron on the 18th that traveled 152 yards.
“I mean, I hit 9-iron from 95 yards, then a couple holes later I hit 9-iron from 208 yards,” Bradley said. “To me there’s no yardage. It’s just the trajectory of your ball, whatever club you can get to fit that window, that’s the shot.”
Things will get easier for all three men on Sunday, who will have the benefit of a free morning before beginning the afternoon on an even playing field. But then again, it’d be hard for it to get worse.
“It was slow. It was hard,” Thomas said. “It’s not really a swing rhythm because you’re just not really making that many swings. It’s just a lot of shots. A lot of choking up, very, very narrow, open stance, slicing it against the wind, drawing it against the wind. I hit two pitching wedges 185 yards today, and I hit a 5-wood 193 yards. It was some of the most bizarre conditions I’ve played in.”