PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Somewhere, Kenny Knox is wondering what the big deal is. Didn’t it blow upwards of 45 miles per hour in the third round of the 1986 Honda Classic at Eagle Trace? And didn’t he post an 80 in those demanding conditions? And didn’t that fail to stop his victory march, because at 1 under 287 he finished one clear of a quartet of competitors come late Sunday?
Yes, yes, and yes. The first of Knox’s three PGA Tour wins came despite brutal conditions 25 years ago. In fact, it was probably worse that year, because it was cold, as opposed to the relatively balmy conditions players have had this time around. (And need we remind players that in 1995 the Wednesday pro-am was called off when winds reached 80 miles per hour?)
Then again, that was then, and this is a look at five storylines from Saturday’s third round:
1.) The Big Easy? Not quite
There are countless ways to explain how difficult PGA National is playing, but let’s go to the bottom of the agate list and work our way up just one spot – to Ernie Els. That’s right, to find one of the game’s best players you have to look far away from the lead.
Els made two double-bogeys, wrote down three 6s on his scorecard, failed to register a birdie, and with a 78 shot his highest score in a non-major since Round of the Memorial in 2008.
So head-shaking difficult has PGA National played that Els could only shake his head and laugh. Then, after making bogey at the par-5 18th, he spotted a waiting golf writer and said, “You could have played better than me today.”
If there’s a bright note, it is this: Last year Els also had a lackluster Honda, then he went on to win twice in three weeks.
2.) Taking precautions
OK, the wind they will deal with. But PGA Tour officials treat heavy rain differently, thus have they called an audible for Sunday’s final round.
Expecting inclement weather late in the afternoon, officials have pushed up tee times and opted for threesomes off the first and 10th tees in an effort to finish by 4 p.m.
3.) Oh where, oh where has my golf ball gone?
Jerry Kelly required quite a bit of assistance to complete playing the par 4 sixth. Having driven the ball wide right, Kelly was in thick rough so he decided to lay up. But his 8-iron shot went even further right, directly toward a palm tree.
“I knew the second I hit it and heard it hit something that there was a good chance that would happen,” Kelly said.
“That” being his ball getting stuck in the tree.
Lucky for Kelly, a police officer saw it and Allen Eyestone, a photographer for the Palm Beach Post was able to snap a photo of it with a zoom lens.
“That’s a first, no question about it,” Kelly said.
Conferring with two rules officials, Kelly was given a penalty drop near the tree. (Had he not identified his ball, he would have been required to go back to spot from where he had hit his second shot.) From approximately 66 yards, Kelly then hit his fourth shot to 12 feet. He made the putt for what might be the best bogey he’s ever made.
4.) Not to outdo himself, but . . .
As if that drama on the sixth wasn’t enough, Kelly continued to give the folks a show. He ran off three pars after the bogey at No. 6, then hit his second shot to 47 feet at the par 4 10th. Somehow, he got the long and winding putt to drop, pushing him to 5 under, just two off the lead.
But one hole later, Kelly was again on a roller-coaster. His second shot from 174 yards came up short and in the water. Staring at double-bogey or worse, Kelly instead took a drop and slammed this shot from 166 yards to a foot. Tap-in bogey, perhaps an even better bogey than the one he had made five holes earlier.
Birdie, birdie at Nos. 14 and 15 was followed by bogeys at 16 and 17, all of which left Kelly at 4 under, tied for second but a whopping five behind Rory Sabbatini. What he thought of, though, was the six-birdie, four-bogey, lost-ball-in-the-tree afternoon.
“I’d say interesting is a pretty good way to look at it,” Kelly said.
5.) A birdiefest it isn’t
Give yourself a gold star – heck, give yourself two of them – if you knew that Spencer Levin led the PGA Tour in birdies entering the week.
The unheralded kid from northern California had made 127 of them in 27 rounds, an average of 4.7 per.
So, why is this noted? Because it helps confirm the difficult scoring conditions here at PGA National. In three rounds, Levin has made just seven birdies, half his usual average. And if you ignore the four birdies in 12 holes Thursday, Levin has birdied just three in 42 holes.
Certainly, that’s not very explosive, but here’s the thing – though disrupted by a double-bogey at the par 4 16th, Levin is having another solid tournament, his fourth in a row in what might be shaping up to be a breakthrough season. After shooting 73, Levin sits at 2 over, tied for 16th.
He is in position for his fourth consecutive top 15, though he’s aiming higher.
Specifically, top five, for that would earn Levin a spot in next week’s Cadillac Championship at Doral. That’s why he was still crushed over the 16th hole. Splitting the fairway with his drive, Levin had just 185 yards to a hole guarded by water, though “it’s really not in play,” moaned Levin. “If I 5,000 balls at the spot, I wouldn’t hit more than one in the water.”
This was the one time.
“I came out of it too early and hit it right into water that you don’t even see,” Levin said. “I still can’t believe I hit that shot.”