5 Things: Battles at top, on cut line of Players
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Martin Kaymer had been in the clubhouse for hours, his 12-under 132 setting the pace at The Players Championship. He had dominated the morning wave in Round 2 and you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course who thought the lead would be threatened.
Then Jordan Spieth burned it up with an afternoon 66 and suddenly there was a battle for the top spot.
The only thing is, there was even more intrigue well down the leaderboard, where at level par some heralded names were clawing to stay relevant.
So from stars at the top to stars at the bottom, here are 5 Things to know from Friday’s second round:
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1. PRAISE FOR THE KID: Graeme McDowell arrived for his afternoon round knowing that his former Ryder Cup teammate, Martin Kaymer, had shot 3-under 69 to push to 12 under. “Didn’t think anyone would come close to Martin,” McDowell said.
He didn’t have to look far for the one who did – his playing competitor, 20-year-old Spieth.
Tossing down three birdies on each side and playing bogey-free for a second straight day in warm, swirling wind, Spieth fired the day’s best round and is one off the lead, at 11-under 133.
“Just a very, very solid player,” McDowell said of a young man who figures to be a Ryder Cup foe come September. “Doesn’t do anything wrong.
As for Kaymer, 29, who made like Usain Bolt with a course-record-tying 63 Thursday, he played early in the morning when the wind wasn’t quite as strong. Out in a quiet 35, he birdied two of his final four holes to tack on a 69.
When he left the course, Kaymer had a six-shot lead, but solid moves by Spieth and Russell Henley (71—136), who is four back, tightened things considerably.
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2. CUT! THAT'S A WRAP: Often, the battle to make the cut supplies great drama and that was the case in Round 2 at the Stadium Course. In the morning, Adam Scott had birdied three of his final four holes to shoot 67 and get in at level-par 144, and Brandt Snedeker (69) was there, too.
To make the cut, however, they needed help and for most of the afternoon they weren’t getting it. The cut was 1 under for most of the day until late, when the watery holes at 16, 17, and 18 came into play on one side and the tough, par-3 eighth dominated play on the front.
When it was determined that even par would be the cut, the first watch went toward Rory McIlroy. He had shot a befuddling 42 on his front nine to fall to 4 over. “I’d see one bad shot turn into another, then another,” he said, shaking his head, who didn’t birdie the par-5 ninth and then headed to the 10th tee.
“It’s a good long walk, and on that walk I gathered myself.”
Did he ever! McIlroy birdied 12 and 13, then added another at the par-5 16th. At 1 over, he needed one more and it came at the 18th courtesy of a 314-yard drive and a 159-yard approach that he stuffed to 12 feet.
You don’t think a two-time major winner cares about making the cut? Think again.
“I’m really happy, really proud of myself, happy with myself that I was able to do it,” McIlroy said after making the cut for the second time in five tries.
At the other end of the spectrum was Phil Mickelson, whose opening 75 had put him in a tough predicament. Needing to shoot 69 to make the cut, the lefthander turned in 35, then birdied the 16th. He, like McIlroy, was 1-over. But unlike McIlroy, Mickelson couldn’t find another. Lefty missed a 25-footer at 17, then a 28-footer at 18.
Mickelson has now played 12 tournaments and qualified for weekend play in just seven of them. It’s his third missed-cut of the year and he’s withdrawn twice.
In all, 82 players made the cut at level par. Among those who joined Mickelson with an early exit were Keegan Bradley, Charles Howell III, Webb Simpson, Harris English, Hunter Mahan, and J.B. Holmes, last week’s winner at the Wells Fargo Championship.
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3. NOT WHAT YOU THINK: Home games are always nice. They’re just not always easy. The thing is, if you’re wondering what’s with Jim Furyk and his pedestrian play in his hometown event, don’t assume that the problem revolves around the golf course.
“I’ve had the golf course figured out for a long time,” Furyk said of the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. “I just haven’t played particularly well.”
In 19 appearances in The Players, Furyk has just three top 10s, his best being a share of third in 2006. He has missed four cuts, including last year when he readily concedes that the game wasn’t a lot of fun. But rejuvenated in 2014 and on the eve of his 44th birthday (Monday), Furyk has put together trips of 70-68 to sit at 6 under and six off the lead.
Given that he’s lived in Ponte Vedra Beach for years, Furyk is a popular media attraction here, and even more so when he’s playing well. Of course, always the storyline gets around to why he has struggled so much here.
“You’d think that it would be a golf course that would suit my game,” he said. “It’s not power-dominated. It’s more about placing the ball in the right places. (But) it just has an extremely awkward look to me, if that makes sense.”
Sort of, but whatever, the greater story is this: Having re-committed himself to having fun and enjoying the game again, Furyk is on a pretty good roll. He has yet to miss a cut in eight stroke-play events, he’s got four top 10s in nine starts and he’s finished T-6, T-14, T-7, and second in his last four tournaments.
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4. DUTCH TREAT: Small in stature but large in heart, Joost Luiten has acquitted himself nicely halfway through his first appearance in The Players Championship. The 28-year-old from The Netherlands backed up an opening 68 with a 72 to settle in at 4-under 140.
“It always helps if you shoot a low score the first day. It takes off a bit of pressure; you don’t have to fight to make the cut and you play a bit more freely. I think that helps on a course like this.”
Ranked 41st in the world, Luiten has piled up four international victories, two on the European Tour, and gradually the secret is coming out: The young man can play. “Today I didn’t play my best golf, but it was a good fight,” Luiten said after making two birdies to offset two bogeys. “I kept myself in it with some nice putts.”
Luiten’s caddie for the week is Dan Quinn, who played for eight teams during a 14-year NHL career and later hooked on to work for a few years with Ernie Els. When Luiten deftly putted from 60 feet to tap-in range at the 18th, Quinn gave him thumbs-up, a sure signal that the day had gone well.
“He’s been here before with Ernie. He knows the course. He knows what to do,” Luiten said of Quinn. “(As a former athlete) he knows what goes on in your head when you’re under pressure. That’s what you need as a player, a guy next to you who knows exactly what is going on.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Kevin Chappell had the day’s best round going when he played the back in 31, then birdied Nos. 1 and 2 to get to 7 under. But he bogeyed three of his final holes to shoot what could safely be called a “disappointing” 68 to leave him at 4 under through 36 holes. . . . James Driscoll continues to struggle. He shot 75-78 and has now missed five straight cuts. . . . Kenny Perry, in for having won the Senior Players Championship in 2013, came back with a 70, but it wasn’t enough to overcome an opening 77 as he missed the cut. . . . There were 10 tee shots hit into the water at the 17th, plus two more on the drops. For two days there have been 21 tee balls and 24 in all. . . . The par-4 14th played most difficult (4.310 field average), the par-5 16th easiest (4.669). . . . Briny Baird shot 40 on the back, which pushed him to 9 over, and withdrew. . . . D.H. Lee opened with a 78, played two holes in 1 over, and also withdrew.