Sunday, July 22, 2018

Jason Day holds on to Players Championship lead

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — The venue did not change between rounds at the Players Championship on Saturday, so why did the golfers feel as if they were suddenly playing a different sport?

The Stadium Course's greens at TPC Sawgrass became so fast and slippery in the third round, the putters in the players' hands might as well have been hockey sticks.

Then there were those who felt like they weren't even playing a sport.

"Man, I felt like I was putting on dance floors out there," former Gator standout Billy Horschel said.

In the opening two rounds — the second of which was completed Saturday morning because of a Friday weather delay — the greens were so soft and receptive that the tournament produced a record number of rounds under par for those days in the 35 years the tournament has been at Sawgrass.

The best came from Jason Day, who finished his second round Saturday at 6-under 66 and set the 36-hole tournament record with 15-under 129, breaking by one the record Greg Norman set at TPC Sawgrass in 1994.

Then for the third round later in the day, a perfect storm of hot, dry and windy weather made the putting surfaces faster than they had been all week.

Day, who did not make his first bogey until his 39th hole, recorded two double bogeys in the next five, the first on a four-putt. In his misery, Day had plenty of company; there were 149 three-putts or worse on an afternoon in which 60 of the 76 players who survived the cut had at least one double bogey or worse on their scorecards.

Day, the world No. 1 who is gunning for his third victory of 2016, shot 1-over 73 but still finished the day with a four-stroke lead at 14-under 202 on Ken Duke (65), Hideki Matsuyama (67) and Alex Cejka (72). Duke, Matsuyama and Graeme McDowell (69) were the only players to break 70.

"I want to say this was the toughest day I've ever had to play in my life," said Day, in position for his second wire-to-wire win of the year. "A 10-foot putt felt like it was 60 feet away.

"I want to win this tournament so bad. I really do. … But right now I'm just trying to focus on trying to play well (today). I mean, that's all you could do is just try to survive."

Duke, 47 and with one PGA Tour win, turned in the best round of the tournament by making six birdies over his last seven holes. Players couldn't believe someone could shoot 10 shots better than the average.

"I'm just a player on the PGA Tour," Duke said. "They're all good out here, and when you get some good number and make some good putts, the scores are there. … But it was a great round. This golf course is very difficult with this condition, and it was a really unbelievable round."

Adam Scott (75) suggested the tour manipulated the conditions. Mark Russell, the tour's senior vice president of competition, said the preparations of the course didn't change. All week the tour has cut the greens twice and rolled them twice. Once the storm-delayed second round ended Saturday morning, the greens were rolled one more time.

The difference was the weather: low humidity, no cloud cover on a day with temperatures in the 80s and 20 mph wind from a different direction.

"We weren't expecting a 20 mile-an-hour wind all day, and the humidity 30 percent, not a cloud in the sky," Russell said. "And they just, you know, sped up on us."