PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — By lunchtime Friday at the Players Championship, the normally fearsome TPC Sawgrass was looking almost toothless, with the scoring average hovering around 71 and the cut likely to fall under par for only the third time in the last 20 years.
The low scoring has surprised a lot of veterans who have endured tougher times at this Pete Dye brute, not least two-time winner Tiger Woods.
“It’s in perfect shape, it’s just playing really short. It’s so hot out here, the ball’s flying. We’re probably playing close to a club less than we normally do,” he said after a second round 71. “The cut right now is under par, which is unheard of around here.”
The course may be playing relatively easy for the best, but how about for the rest?
Not so fast, say the pros.
I presented a scenario to former PGA Championship winner Rich Beem: a 10-handicapper is sent off the tournament tees — 7,189 yards — on Saturday morning. What does he shoot?
“I’d say 95 is going to be your over/under number,” he offered. “Not so much because of the length, more that the greens tomorrow are not greens anymore, they’re browns. He’ll make three or four pars, some doubles and triples. You’re going to par some of the holes but you’re going to make some train wrecks too.”
So, 23-over par. It couldn’t be that tough to find someone to take the under.
I asked Jamie Lovemark, who cruised to a 67 in the second round.
‘He could shoot 155 if he wanted to’
“He could be on 17 for a long time, so he could shoot 155 if he wanted to,” Lovemark said with a laugh. “I say high 90s no problem.”
“It depends on why they’re a 10 handicap,” chimed in Chris Como, Lovemark’s coach. “Is he a good driver of the ball and bad short game? I say 100.”
And if it’s the other way around?
“There’s not much rough this week so they could get away with it,” Lovemark said. “A few years ago they would have shot 135 when it was fast and firm. Almost unplayable.”
Since Aussies are a no-nonsense bunch, I asked world No. 16 Marc Leishman, who has posted a pair of 71s so far this week. “120,” he said emphatically. Really? “Yeah. My dad’s a scratch and he couldn’t break 95 here.”
Next up: Ollie Schneiderjans, whose 68-71 start has him at 5-under-par. He paused for a long time, as various scoring scenarios ran through his famously hatless head. “What would be average double?” he thought aloud.
He pauses again, considering how much leeway to grant. “Probably 105,” he finally decides. “Somewhere around 100 to 105.”
Irishman Shane Lowry shot 68 on Friday and he isn’t giving our typical 10 handicap much of a chance.
“He wouldn’t break 100 I’d say,” Lowry said. “My dad’s a 10 handicapper so what would my dad shoot around here?”
Filial loyalty kicks in: “He’d probably break 100,” Lowry said. “Depends what sort of a 10 handicapper. I’ve played with some who wouldn’t even break 150.”
Looking for someone to take the ‘under’
Still on the hunt for a guy who’d take the under, I asked Claude Harmon III, who might actually see more 10s than the typical Tour pro would.
“I will take the over if they tee off late, maybe take the under if they were the first group out on perfect greens,” he said, remaining firmly on the fence.
“Most 10s don’t putt out all of their putts,” said David Duval, who won at TPC Sawgrass in 1999. “They wouldn’t beat 100.”
Finally, I found Billy Kratzert, the four-time Tour winner who now works as a TV analyst. He’d been standing in the hot sun and was prepared to side with the rest over the best.
“A 10 handicap off the tips, even if they make bogey a hole they’re at 90, so let’s start there and work our way back,” he said. “I’m going to say they’re not going to keep the ball out of the water. They’re used to shooting 82ish. I’m going to say they’re right between 88 and 91.”
“They’re going to hit a four-, five-, six-hole stretch where they’re going to be fine,” Kratzert said. “Do the math. Ten or 12 holes left, and if they keep it out of trouble they’ll be fine.”
Billy K., a man of the people. I told him he was the only guy to take the under as his fellow pros predicted a scorecard slaughterhouse.
“Given the time it takes to learn this golf course and the green complexes I can understand why players would think that,” he said, with a sly grin on his face. “I’m also under the impression that the more they pump it up, the better they look!”
I went back and told Beem that only one guy took the under.
“They’re all taking the over?” he said. Then a laugh. “You’re talking to players who are taking the over to feel good about their games!”