After a stormy start to the Players Championship that nearly submerged the course and stopped play several times, there was finally some good news for the tournament that is the PGA Tour’s crown jewel: The first round was completed.
From the first swing to the last putt, it took 55 hours and 16 minutes. The end came Saturday afternoon following yet another delay that prevented play until noon. While sunny skies replaced the last of the storms, they came with strong winds, gusting up to 90 km/h. That made club selection a guessing game and confounded the players as they tried to find the right line on which to hit the ball. Wind direction made typical yardages almost useless.
Keegan Bradley, who was bogey free except for a two-shot penalty for incorrectly marking his ball, hit a nine-iron from 95 yards and a few holes later used the club to hit it 208 yards.
“To me there's no yardage,” said Bradley, who called his one-under round one of the best of his life. “It's just the trajectory of your ball, whatever club you can get to fit that window, that's the shot.”
Nowhere did the breezes torment the golfers more than on the 17th hole, which was relatively benign for the first two days. On Thursday and Friday, only four balls found the water on the near-island green. On Saturday, four of the first six swings resulted in balls finding the liquid with a total of 29 ending up wet.
Rather than the standard wedge, golfers used seven- and eight-irons for the 135-yard shot.
“At that point you're not even looking at the flag,” said Daniel Berger, one of the few to make a birdie on the hole. “You're just trying to put it on dry land and make a par and get out of there. That's how the day felt, just trying to make a bunch of pars.”
“There's nothing you can do,” stated Brooks Koepka, who found the water both times he played the hole Saturday. “It's gust dependent, and it is what it is.”
According to statistician Justin Ray, players were a combined 79 under par over the first two rounds and a whopping 283 over par on Saturday.
While half the field was battling the elements, the other half spent most of the day sitting on the couch. The division of tee times meant those with late starts played only a handful of holes or none at all and will return on Sunday morning.
Mackenzie Hughes was the only Canadian to complete both rounds, ending up at four over after a 76 in the second round. He struggled with his game through most of the 36 holes and those were magnified by the difficult conditions.
“I don’t feel comfortable with my swing, with my putting and when you add 30 mile an hour winds, it’s a pretty hard game,” said Hughes, who ended up at four-over par for the two rounds.
Adam Hadwin was one over par through 15 holes when play was called due to darkness. He will start his day on Sunday with an eagle putt on the 16th green.
Roger Sloan played only three holes of his second round but birdied two of them and was at one-under par for the tournament.
Corey Conners and Taylor Pendrith didn’t hit a shot Saturday, getting the best side of the draw. They’ll start at 8:15 on Sunday and while they won’t have to deal with rain or winds, the temperatures are expected to drop to single digits in the forecast and a projected high of just 12.
Officials are hoping to bring the tournament to a close on Monday, the first time it’s concluded after the usual Sunday since 2005.