McCabe: Sawgrass still has deceptive teeth
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. –- Funny thing about this pushover of a golf course hosting the Players Championship, a proverbial pitch ’n putt where birdies are at every turn of the head.
Phil Mickelson bogeyed two of his last three holes, shot 73, and appeared in danger of missing the cut at 1-over 145.
Long-hitting Robert Garrigus bogeyed each of his last two holes and played the little ol’ 367-yard 12th in 3 over for his two days.
Padraig Harrington doubled his 17th hole, the par-3 eighth, and shot 39 on his second nine to get halfway home at level par, in danger of missing the cut.
Justin Rose, No. 4 in the world rankings? At 2-over 146, he was packing his bags and headed for the exits. So, too, No. 13 Ian Poulter and No. 24 Nick Watney.
Oh, yeah, with “easy” courses like this who needs tough?
Davis Love, having battled to shoot 70-72 and make the cut at 2 under, seemingly was speaking for his colleagues when he shook his head and said, “I heard them saying on TV that it was easy. Easy? I can tell you, it was scary (Thursday) afternoon.”
True, the unheralded Roberto Castro tossed down a course-record-tying 63 Thursday, a flurry of notable names pitched in with 66s and 67s, and the 36-hole lead is already in double-digits. But players insist it’s all superficial stuff, that you need to look deeper and study the stage.
PHOTOS: Golf equipment at 2013 Players
Our David Dusek is on the range at TPC Sawgrass, checking out the gear in the bags of PGA Tour pros.
“They give it to you in the morning,” Jason Day said, referring to the lack of wind that greeted the early starters. “But usually around the 13th hole it gets firm and fast and by the end of the day these guys are dealing with tough conditions.”
Truth be told, even in the morning, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass has refused to be overpowered. With very little wind, the field averaged 71.64 Thursday, 71.52 Friday, and as if on cue, each day the fans have been turned on halfway through. No, we’re not talking gale force winds and this isn’t a seaside links challenge by any means, but then again, what does it take to change the complexion of this golf course?
“Not much,” Dufner said.
“Maybe 5-10 miles per hour. That’s enough,” Love said. “Even at 3 miles per hour downwind, the (island-green) 17th is tougher and then throw in greens that a little crustier, a lot drier.”
Dufner, having opened with a 72 Thursday afternoon and jumped into view with a Friday morning 67, looked relieved and ready for lunch. “There’ll be some good scores in the afternoon, but it will be a fight,” he said.
Consider Dufner an example of why you can’t always judge a round of golf by its number. He was the first to concede that he caught a huge break Thursday, because you don’t expect to hole a 157-yard approach to eagle the par-4 18th. Yet that’s what he did, the difference between 72 and 74 chalked up to fate.
Surely, Webb Simpson and Lee Westwood can testify similarly.
Simpson backed up his opening 67 with a 71 to get halfway home at 6 under, five off Sergio Garcia’s lead, but oh, how he got there. The birdie at 17, for instance? “Paul (Tesori, his caddie) said if we can somehow get in that bunker and have an easy shot . . . “
Tongue firmly in cheek, of course, because Simpson hit a very thin tee shot with a wedge, barely carrying his ball into the bunker at the front of the green. He then holed the 20-yard shot to match the good fortune he had received Thursday. In that instance, Simpson’s tee shot at the par-3 13th was wide left and seemingly headed to sleep with the fishes when it caromed off the railroad ties and bounded onto the green.
“That was a good break,” Simpson said. But having avoided a string of hazards and navigated crusty greens at the end of every hole, Simpson could smile. “But you need them around here.”
Westwood would second that sentiment. Having opened his first round with 14 consecutive pars, the Englishman kept telling his caddie, Mike Kerr, that he needed to be patient. When he birdied three of his final four holes to shoot 69, he felt buoyed, but then he started Friday’s second round with a missed birdie try from inside of 4 feet. Then he pulled his second shot wide left and in thick rough at the par-5 11th.
His third shot, a pitch from about 30 yards came out hot and it was easy to envision a scrambling par or possibly a bogey . . . and then the ball hit once, slammed into the flagstick and dropped for an eagle. Explain that. Then again, don’t, because from trying to stay patient and hoping the birdies would come, Westwood was marking down an eagle and following it with birdies at the 12th and 13th, and when he added two more (at 18 and the par-4 second) to post a bogey-free 66, the Englishman was 9 under and right in the thick of things.
If you’re thinking, not bad for a guy who doesn’t like the course, think again. Though he missed The Players Championship five times between 2002 and 2012, it had more to do with schedules and European Tour commitments; it wasn’t for a lack of appreciation with the course.
“I’ve always loved this course,” said Westwood, who has finished fourth, fifth, and sixth in 10 starts. “It’s always suited my game. It’s a golf course I always feel like I can see a way around.”
And what Westwood – even while playing 36 bogey-free holes – sees while navigating around twisted fairways and beneath overhanging trees is a course that has given everyone a shot at a few hours of morning gentle, but has served notice that it will be weekend tough.
“Certainly, (Saturday) teeing off at 2, it will be a s firm as it’s ever been all week,” he said. “So a lot of patience is involved there.”