PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Not that his small victory in any way matches the larger win by K.J. Choi, but Sweden’s Peter Hanson can feel good about his debut at The Players Championship.
Having barely made it into the field, then barely making the cut, Hanson closed 66-71 to grab a piece of 19th place.
It might not sound like much, but it was enough to push him back inside the top 50 – 48th, to be exact. That’s good news, since Hanson can secure a U.S. Open spot if he remains inside the top 50 as of May 23.
Hanson entered the week ranked 52nd.
The Players was Hanson’s eighth PGA Tour start of the year and being a non-member, he’s limited to 12. The Open Championship in July and PGA Championship in August are confirmed on his schedule, as is the Bridgestone Invitational if he can maintain his top-50 status. If he qualifies for the U.S. Open he’d be unable to play in any other PGA Tour tournaments.
Against a backdrop of Europeans who’ve made headlines by refusing to join the PGA Tour (Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer), Hanson is the opposite. He left Sweden and moved to Orlando two years ago in an effort to help his chances for a PGA Tour membership.
He said he would probably play in the Greenbrier Classic (July 28-31) should he not make it into the U.S. Open.
The Players Championship has now been conducted in May for five years, but there remains a difference of opinion as to whether it’s better than when it was in March.
Arguing against the move, Adam Scott: “I don’t think they’ve got the set-up quite right yet for the May date. I think I’d like to see the rough cut down a lot more with the different grass here, get the ball running through into the runoff areas.”
Voting yes, Mark O’Meara: “Having it Bermuda (grass) and no overseed, I think that is a tremendous idea. Playing it in May, between the Masters and U.S. Open, is also a great call.”
And seeing a case for each, Luke Donald: “I think it’s harder in March. I think when they had the bent greens they were extremely quick. I kind of preferred it in March. I think the weather wasn’t quite as hot, but it’s a toss-up, really.”
And the man whose vote counts most, commissioner Tim Finchem: “We like May. The players like it. The fans like it.”
Crazy week for Brian Gay.
He was cruising along nicely in Round 1 when he pulled his tee shot into the water at No. 18. The spot where he last crossed land provided him an unusual drop area and from an awkward downhill, sidehill lie he pulled his next shot into water and wound up making a quadruple-bogey.
Yet, he still shot 1-under 71.
In his fourth round, Gay hit what he thought was a decent second shot out of the woods at the par-4 sixth, only to discover that his ball got lodged in a palm tree near the green. “We found three balls up there, but never could identify one of them as mine,” Gay said.
With the lost ball, Gay returned to his original spot and wound up making a double-bogey.
But he followed with a rash of birdies and still fired a 71, which included a bit of drama at the 17th hole. Having hit his tee shot to 9 feet, Gay had a golden opportunity to become just the second in Players Championship history to birdie the island-green all four days.
Alas, he missed, which means that Paul Azinger remains in the record books all by himself.
It had the makings of a sweet homecoming saga. David Duval, your 1999 Players Championship winner and locally-grown product, was 4 under through 13 holes Thursday. Then he was 2 under with six to play Friday.
How long had it been since he had been to the Stadium Course as a competitor? The record books said five years. Duval said, “It feels like it’s been forever.”
His 2011 return ended as it had each time in 2003-04 and ‘06 – with a missed cut. Duval exited in a disappointing manner, because after a birdie at the par-4 12th to get to 2 under, he bogeyed the par-3 13th then drove it left and into the water to triple the par-4 14th and go to 2 over.
Though he birdied the 15th, Duval needed one more, but couldn’t get it. So instead of weekend golf at the Stadium Course, he told reporters he was looking forward to spending time at the beach with his family in his former hometown.
Angel Cabrera reports he’s feeling better, one week after having withdrawn from the Wells Fargo Championship because of an abscess in his lower intestine.
He finished T-41 at The Players Championship, despite being sore from the emergency surgery. But Cabrera isn’t quite out of the woods on the medical front. He’ll play in the upcoming stop at Colonial, then go to Houston for more work to address long-running dental issues.
“I’m much better, maybe the first couple of the days I wasn’t feeling 100 percent,” Cabrera said. “But right now I’m feeling really well.”
Kenny Perry has reunited with Fred Sanders, his caddie from those hugely profitable days between 2007-09.
Sanders had been working for Scott Piercy and was prepared to be on the bag at the Valero Texas Open when Perry called. Next thing he knew, Sanders was working the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am and they’ve had a pretty good run thus far – T-20 in Tampa, losing a playoff at the Legends, and finishing T-5 at the Regions Tradition.
“It’s great to be back,” said Sanders. “He’s playing well and I think you’ll see him have a big year.”
While Mark O’Meara opened with a 66 to steal all the thunder for the trio of Champions Tour players in the field, it was Perry (4 under 284, T-39) who finished highest. Corey Pavin was T-45, while O’Meara struggled on the weekend (79-77) and was dead last of the 74 who made the cut.
The Players Championship was Perry’s seventh PGA Tour tournament of the year, but he’s got a couple more on deck – the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and the Memorial, events he’s won before – before he returns his focus to the Champions Tour.
Remember when they were “The Big Five,” arguably the best five players in the world? Well, that’s not true anymore, but there’s one thing that remains the same when it comes to Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, and Retief Goosen – collectively they struggle at the Stadium Course.
This year was no different, as Woods withdrew, Els and Singh missed the cut, and Mickelson (T-33) and Goosen (T-61) were never in the mix.