A lot happened at THE PLAYERS on Friday. Some of it good. Some of it both bad and ugly. Especially at the 17th, long known as a score-wrecker.
For some, it kept them out of weekend play. And for others, the misfortune of one helped someone else in the field, including Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
Webb Simpson, using a longish, Matt Kuchar-length putter and the claw putting stroke, tied the course record late Friday afternoon posting a 63. He was actually on 59 watch for a good part of the back nine, stringing together six birdies in a row from the 11th to through the 16th. Then he bumped into the wall of the island 17th. Bulkhead, bounce, roll, splash.
“When you're out there competing in a big tournament, you're as focused as can be, but then at a certain point, maybe on 13 today, you start just — like a kid, just kind of laughing,” Simpson said after his round. “Everything is going in. You feel like no matter what, you're going to make it. I grew up on an easy golf course, so it reminded me of being back home, shooting low numbers. But at the same time, you're at TPC Sawgrass, so you know that trouble is everywhere, as you guys saw with me on 17.”
The catastrophe happened after Simpson seemed undecided on the 17th tee, talking back and forth with caddie Paul Tesori, who is a former PGA Tour player, while trying to decide on a club. Their problem was that the wind was into the players on the tee, just a very light 2 MPH breeze. But it was behind them up in the air, between 8 and 15 MPH. They misunderestimated, as Will Farrell might have said doing his President Bush 43 imitation. Result? Water. Double bogey.
While the 17th was unkind to several golfers, in the case of one in particular, it made the difference between making the cut and missing it.
Rory McIlroy was in for the weekend until he reached the 17th. You guessed it. Splash, crash. Ball in the water. He doubled and will be packing his suitcase early.
John Huh was cruising along through the first nine holes until he had an unfortunate triple at the 10th, but he was playing well enough that the 10th was not the problem. It was the 17th that blew his score from 2-under to even par and buh-bye weekend.
However, there were a number who missed the island and still shot low enough rounds to make it, like Simpson. One, Chesson Hadley, is near the top of the leaderboard. He finished his round double and bogey and is still 9-under par and in 5th place. Without those two missteps, he’d be at 13-under par and in second.
Tony Finau made the weekend despite taking a quadruple bogey at the 17th, which tells you how well he was playing the rest of the time.
The 17th got 21 golf balls today, but that’s three fewer than the first round when it snagged 24.
Woods and Spieth
Half of the players in the two “star groupings” made the cut: Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas. They were right on the 1-under number. Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler will just have to wait until next year.
Woods, Spieth and Thomas will be starting in the first groups out and will have lower winds and fresher greens. Look for them to move up.
Tiger Woods struggled with getting his irons close enough to the flagsticks to have what he called good birdie opportunities.
“I didn't hit the ball close enough today,” he said. “I had sand wedge on 10, reachable par-5 at 11, sand wedge again at 12 and I played those even par. That's not the start I wanted to have and unfortunately kind of went the rest of the day the same way.”
Spieth had to dig himself out of a 3-over par score that he dug for himself in the first round.
“I just have tried to force first rounds in the past and I did the same yesterday and it got me in trouble,” he said. “But I'm driving the ball beautifully. I was putting myself in positions yesterday that I thought, if I just do the same today and make a couple putts, then I can shoot 4-under, 5-under, no problem and that's kind of how the day went.”
Thomas had no comment.