FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – So, how fast were they?
“I think Gary out there today on the first hole put his putter down and it slipped,” Tiger Woods said.
Can you confirm that, Gary Christian?
“There’s no moisture left (in the greens). I like to put my club down in a nice and light manner and take one hand off. Well, as soon as I took that hand off, the head wobbled because there’s no friction. That threw me off a little bit.”
So, yes, Christian was supporting what his playing competitor, Woods, and what nearly every other player said about the third round of The Barclays. That is, the greens at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course were faster than fast.
Well consider the statistic for average putts per round. The PGA Tour lists 195 players in this category, and only five average more than 30 per round. But Saturday, with warm wind and more sunshine baking out Bethpage Black, of the 75 players who made the cut, 47 took more than 30. Heck, two of them – Pat Perez and Robert Garrigus – averaged exactly two per hole, a whopping 36 total, while Justin Rose and Vijay Singh each had 35.
But isn’t firm and fast what the world’s greatest players always clamor for?
“There’s firm and fast and then there’s this,” Nick Watney said. “And this is pretty extreme.”
Having started the day tied with Sergio Garcia for the lead at 8 under, Watney and the Spaniard traded it back-and-forth until the back nine. That’s when Garcia shot 34 for a 2-under 69 and Watney fell back with a 38 for 71. Though he remained in the final pairing, Watney will start the fourth round at 8 under, trailing Garcia by two – and hoping the greens don’t continue to pick up speed.
“They’re close to losing control of some of the greens,” Watney suggested, and from one end of Bethpage to the other, it was a sentiment that gained steam.
“Eight (green) was ridiculously quick at the back there. I had 20 feet that I rolled 6 feet by, and Bubba (Watson) four-putted from 30 feet. It was like glass back there,” Greg Chalmers said.
“The greens? I mean, there are two or three of them that are barely even alive at this point,” Ryan Moore said. “I would say the greens overall rolled about 3 or 4 feet faster than they have the last two days, and that’s a big adjustment to make.”
What’s a PGA Tour official to do but grin and bear it and remind himself that he’s been hearing this for years. Thursday, players were surprised at how easy Bethpage played. Two days later, it was reminding them of the infamous 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.
“Was it unfair? I wouldn’t say it was unfair,” Garcia said, his day having included just one three-putt. “I didn’t feel it was unfair . . .”
Garcia smiled and said he hit a tee shot about 5 feet behind the hole at the par-3 14th, sized it up, and resigned himself to his fate. It was downhill, blistering fast, and as he looked at it he said to himself, “even if you leave it short, I don’t care.”
But he couldn’t lag it short; the ball rolled 4 feet by and Garcia felt fortunate enough to make his par.
It was one of the plays that put him in good position for his second win in as many weeks, but maintaining his composure over a difficult golf course with extreme greens had worn the Spaniard down. He was headed home.
“I want to go back to the hotel, take a nice shower and relax. I don’t want to think about tomorrow at all. There will be plenty of thinking tomorrow.”
And 18 very slick greens will add to the challenge.
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FOR THE DEFENSE: Sure, Ian Poulter tweeted something about it being the worst set-up he’d ever seen, and others complained. Sure, the greens were fast and some holes tucked. But when the numbers were crunched and the day was done, there was this stuff that the field staff could put on the table and rest their case:
Kevin Stadler shot 65, Phil Mickelson joined three others in shooting 67, and 19 sub-par rounds were recorded.
The field average? At 72.600 it was 1.397 higher than Thursday, but what was it guys said two days ago? That day was the easiest they were going to see Bethpage Black? Well, guess what? They were right.
“It’s very challenging tee-to-green,” Mickelson said. “But the setup isn’t as penalizing as the USGA sets it up.”
Certainly, while the afternoon wave seemed to struggle with Bethpage’s crispy greens, there was a different opinion from those who went out in the morning.
“It was playing slightly easier than (Friday),” Rory McIlroy said after posting a 69 to move up a bit on the board. Though he’s still not in contention to win, McIlroy went from T-52 to T-22, now eight back.
Mickelson benefited, too, his 67 enabling him to hurdle a whopping 42 players so that he sits T-10, just six back. Good news to the legion of fans he seems to have in the Big Apple.
“I really do love Bethpage,” Mickelson said. “I love golf in this area.”
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MAN OF HIS WORD: When he reported a sore back Friday from a poor night’s sleep, Tiger Woods said one thought was to sleep on the floor.
Well, it was something Gary Christian wondered about, so he brought up the subject while talking to his esteemed playing competitor.
Having told Woods that he slept comfortably in a bed, Christian inquired how the night had gone for him. “He was on the floor. I did ask him. I said, ‘Come on, you’re joking,’ but he said no, he wasn’t.”
Woods, of course, traded a sore back for a sore mood, thanks to a putter that failed him badly. He three-putted four times en route to a 1-over 72 that sent him falling. Just three off the lead to start the day, Woods will start Round 4 in a share of 10th, but six behind.
“I played the way I needed to play,” he said. “I played a beautiful round of golf. Unfortunately, didn’t clean up on the greens.”
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WONDERING ABOUT THE WONDER: On one hand, it’s remarkable what Vijay Singh continues to do. Play and play and play and play and play. But he’s 49, and it’s easy to wonder if the wear and tear this late in the year is starting to show.
Just a few weeks removed from his share of the 36-hole lead at the PGA Championship, Singh played well Thursday and Friday to get himself into the thick of things against a world-class field on a demanding golf course.
But just as he did at Kiawah Island – closing 74-77 to fade into T-36 – Singh stumbled badly at Bethpage Black. Starting the day at 7-under and just one off the lead, the big Fijian went out in 1 over 37, then made doubles at the par-5 13th and par-4 18th to shoot 76.
It dropped him into a tie for 22nd, a whopping eight back.
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PROJECTED NUMBERS: It’s not quite like calling the presidential race based on how the dozen folks in Dixville Notch vote, but based on the 54-hole picture, some notable names are going to have to hustle Sunday if they want to make it to the second playoff tournament.
Fredrik Jacobson, Henrik Stenson and Jason Day all are projected as finishing outside the top 100, but the good news is, they have another day to improve their position.
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LAST-MINUTE HELP: Nick Watney has had a mentor in years, the venerable Sam Reeves. A wealthy businessman from Fresno, Calif., Reeves is well connected in the golf world, his friends too many to number, and when Watney mentioned that he was struggling with the putter, his good friend had an answer: Darrell Kestner.
One of the premier club professionals in the business, Kestner works out of Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, not far from Bethpage, and Reeves suggested Watney seek him out. That was all Watney needed, and he is thrilled with the results from their consultations.
“I just saw him on Monday and a little bit (Saturday) morning, and it’s paid off huge,” Watney said.
Need proof? Well, despite a three-putt bogey at 18, Watney required just 27 putts, and there were eight one-putt greens.