PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Brian Harman was a sideshow Thursday at The Players Championship, playing as a single after starting the day as the tournament’s first alternate in bizarre ruling.
But placed into the more traditional setting of a three-ball, Harman moved himself into solid position for the weekend by shooting a second-round 68 to get halfway home at 3-under 141.
“It’s been kind of tough, being bounced around everywhere, but I definitely belong now,” said Harman, who finished his second round with a 31 on Sawgrass’ front nine. “As a rookie, your first job is to keep your job. Every cut you make helps. I’m just enjoying it.”
Harman birdied his final two holes Friday, chipping in from pine straw left of the eighth green and getting it up-and-down just short of the green at the par-5 ninth.
“I had to go under a tree, over the bunker and then land it on the left edge of the green and roll it up there,” Harman said. “It got halfway there and I thought, ‘That is dead center.’”
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THE STREAK ENDS: And the answer is: August 15-16, 2009.
The question: When was the last time Steve Stricker had a weekend off at a tournament in which he was entered?
“All things must come to an end,” said Jimmy Johnson, Stricker’s caddie, after his man shot 76-74 to halt his streak of 49 consecutive cuts made.
Making just three birdies over two days, Stricker added yet another lackluster effort to his long list of them here. He’s now played in 16 of these championships, he’s missed the cut exactly 50 percent of the time, and only once has he been inside the top 10.
“It was nice just because you know that you’re playing a lot and you’re making a lot of checks, you’re playing the weekend and had a lot of opportunities to win during that stretch but yeah when it’s all said and done it really doesn’t mean anything,” Stricker said. “But it means something here if I could have been playing the weekend. You hate to miss playing the weekend here at this event.”
Stricker showed a glimmer of spark by shooting 2-under 34 over the back nine, but he bogeyed No. 3, doubled the short, par-4 4th, and finished with a bogey at the 9th to get an early ticket home.
“Couldn’t get anything going,” Stricker said . “Hit it good at times, hit it poor at times. Made some good putts, missed some makeable ones, little ones. Never really got anything going at all.”
Living in Wisconsin may have contributed to his lackluster play this week with bad weather in Madison forcing Stricker to limit his practice time coming into this week.
Having played in only six events before The Players, Stricker is planning a full schedule the remainder of the year.
“I’m playing the same exact schedule that I have played the last couple years,” Stricker said. “And once we get into the Memorial and the summer I’ll be playing, I think I got a stretch of quite a lot, not in a row, but it will be a busy summer.”
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LOVE STORY: DISAPPOINTMENT Given that Davis Love has been sidelined six weeks to rest a cracked rib, one might think he’d be satisfied with rounds of 72-74.
One would be wrong.
“You could say I’m rusty, but it’s a great disappointment, because I’m making silly bogeys,” Love said. “I’m making bogeys with wedges and from the middle of the fairway.”
Playing for the first time since withdrawing after three rounds of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Love at one point Thursday was 3 under, then he bogeyed three times over his last seven holes. When he played the back nine in 38 to go to 2 over for the tournament, Love was in a hole from which he could not escape.
“Silly stuff, like at 18,” Love said. “I missed the green to the right, then chipped across the green and into the water. You can’t do that.”
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ON THE REBOUND: One of the better comeback efforts was scripted by Justin Rose. He failed to make a birdie in his first-round 76 Thursday, but birdied five of his first seven holes to jump-start a 68 on Friday. No, at level par he’s not threatening the lead, “but I’m happy to be here for the weekend.”
Indeed, it’s never been easy for the Englishman, because he’s missed the cut four times in eight previous starts and never has he finished better than T-22.
Yet . . . Rose appreciates the nuances of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and what just getting in under the cut can do, “especially on this golf course when it’s soft in the morning and without wind you can go out and shoot 65.”
Walking off the 16th green, Rose perhaps thought he had a chance at something even lower than 65, but he bogeyed the 18th and ran off nine consecutive pars on the first nine to settle for 68.
“It was a grind,” he said. “I haven’t quite got it all together this week, but it’s a hard game this week. The wind picked up on the back. Seems to be the deal this week and as soon as it picks up to 5-10 miles per hour, I’m not committing to my shots very well, because the penalties out here are severe.”
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QUICK STAY ON THE DL: When he withdrew from the Wells Fargo Championship last week in Round 2, Bo Van Pelt figured he’d go home, rest his sore wrist, and see if he could go for The Players Championship.
“It was just really inflamed and there was nothing that was torn or anything in there,” Van Pelt said.
Not only are all systems go, but Van Pelt has put together rounds of 71-70 to get somewhat into the mix.
Having struggled to an inward 39 to spoil a front-nine 32 Thursday, Van Pelt rode a far more consistent wave Friday. He eagled the par-5 16th to play the back in 35, then offset a bogey at the fifth with birdies at Nos. 2 and 4 coming home.
Van Pelt had a cortisone shot the Tuesday of the Wells Fargo Championship, but withdrew for precautionary reasons Friday. By Saturday, he was home in Oklahoma, the cortisone shot seemed to have finally kicked in, and he felt ready to take on the TPC Sawgrass challenge.
Clearly, he made the right choice.
“It’s getting better. (Thursday) I saw some good stuff, made seven birdies. I just had a couple stupid holes on the back that cost me. But it’s nice to shoot another 1 under today.”
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BETTER PERSPECTIVE, BETTER GOLF: Brian Davis will enter the weekend at 6 under, two shots off Zach Johnson’s lead, thanks to rounds of 68-70. In his past five starts, he has two fourth-place finishes, a ninth and 13th. He lost his father, Robert, last October, an experience that changed his perspective on the game.
“It came right at the end of my season, so I didn’t have my golf to sort of keep me going. I had two months to sit and think about things,” Davis said. “It wasn’t an easy time, but I made a promise to my dad that I would use it as a positive, what he went through and what happened, and not let it be a negative on me, which is what he would’ve wanted. It’s just a change.”
Davis also credited work with Dr. Robert Winters, a sports psychologist, for helping him with his game.
“You still hit good shots, you still hit bad shots, that’s never going to change,” Davis said. “It’s getting back to playing golf again, not so much worrying about stats, what score you shoot, what people say. Sometimes we have to step back from what we do and say hey, this is pretty cool and I’m enjoying myself. It’s easy to get bogged down with things. It’s just a change of perspective.”
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GOOD GAME WITH NEW NAME: Sung Kang’s Players Championship started with a quadruple bogey. It didn’t end Friday, though. Kang made the cut in spite of that choppy start. He backed up Thursday’s 75 with a 68 to get into the weekend at 1-under 143.
“I was only 2 over par after two holes, so I didn’t really worry about it,” Kang said. “I played really, really good golf and really bad golf.”
In 36 holes, he has 19 pars, eight birdies, two eagles, five bogeys, a double bogey and that dreaded “other.”
This is his second week going by Sung Kang. He played as Sunghoon Kang as PGA Tour rookie in 2011. He made an 8-foot birdie on the season’s final hole to keep his card, which also earned him his spot this week at TPC Sawgrass.
“It’s hard for you guys to say it. You guys didn’t even try to say it right so I changed it for you guys,” Kang joked.
Asked why he didn’t change his name to S.H. Kang, he laughed and said, “Then you guys would say, ‘Shhhhhhh.’ “
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ALL ABOUT THE GREENS: The weather for the second round at the Players Championship seems very similar to Thursday: warm and sunny conditions that produced 54 rounds under par and 77 recorded at even or better.
Only 10 times since 1974 has the cut been at even or better, with the lowest cut of 2 under coming in 1993 and 2010.
With a scoring average of 72.373 in Thursday’s first round, it is likely that the cut for 2012 will move up to 1 under with the pervasive scoring so far.
In the first round, the two harbinger of good play came in looking at the Greens In Regulation and Strokes Gained Putting categories.
In the first 30 Players Championships at TPC Sawgrass, 20 of the winners were ranked in the top 10 in greens in regulation (GIR).
After the first round, the top 10 players in GIR were 21 under, with 8 of 10 players 2 under or better.
- Harrison Frazar (-4)
- Arjun Atwal (-3)
- Sang-Moon Bae (-4)
- Kris Blanks (-3)
- Chris Couch (E)
- Trevor Immelman (E)
- Chris Kirk (-1)
- Jeff Maggert (-2)
- John Merrick (-2)
- Geoff Ogilvy (-2)
At the same time, the Strokes Gained Putting stat produced 38 under for the top 10 players.
- Blake Adams (-6)
- Kevin Na (-5)
- Scott Verplank (E)
- Martin Laird (-7)
- Johnson Wagner (-3)
- Kevin Stadler (-4)
- Jhonattan Vegas (-4)
- Brian Gay (-1)
- Jimmy Walker (-1)
- Ian Poulter (-7)
What is most interesting is that there is no overlap between the two categories, not one player was in the top 10 in both categories.
Over the last 30 years, only five winners have been ranked in the putting and GIR category: Calvin Peete (1985), Greg Norman (1994), Steve Elkington (1997), Tiger Woods (2001) and Davis Love III (2003).