As tough as the conditions were on day three of The Players Championship, Rory McIlroy claimed that it was “fair” for tournament organisers to allow them to play on at TPC Sawgrass.
Winds gusted up to 30mph in Ponte Vedra Beach but, crucially, the rain stayed away, allowing play to resume that the already severely delayed tournament, but scoring was sent haywire by the brutal conditions.
Forty-eight players came back to complete their first rounds on Saturday afternoon, including McIlroy and Seamus Power, before they had a quick turnaround – some as short as five minutes – to head back out for their second rounds in the same conditions that made low scores improbable.
The par-three 17th in particular was causing drama, despite playing under 140 yards a strong headwind leading to mis-clubs from players throughout the day and plenty of splashes around the island green, but that was just a microcosm of the day as a whole.
Kevin Kisner, who carded a two-over 74 in his second round and is two-under for the tournament, described the situation as “pure luck” and that there was a “loss of integrity of the tournament”. While he was the only one publicly making that argument, it is believed many more echoed it privately.
But other voices said otherwise, including McIlroy who, despite back-to-back 73s leaving him two-over and facing a nervy wait to see if he makes the cut, believed it was not wrong to send them out onto the course to continue play.
“No, it’s not (unfair). No, because it was so soft, it was fine. The ball was staying. I mean, very tough conditions, but it was fair,” said the World No.6.
“The front nine was a little more sheltered so it probably didn’t play quite as tough. But some of those holes on the back nine are so exposed, like 16, 17, 18, it’s brutal out there.
“Hitting those tee shots on 17 and 18 and just keeping them dry and walking forward is nice.”
It looks like McIlroy’s going to be a shot too many to stick around for the pseudo-weekend at TPC Sawgrass, with the current cut sitting at level-par. While it might sneak up to one-over, going to two-over seems to be optimistic.
If he does miss out, he will blame an untimely double-bogey at his 34th hole, the par-four seventh, for it as after picking up a birdie on the sixth to get back to level-par for the week, he put his drive in the water and wound up with a six.
Having finished his first round on Saturday afternoon, heading back out for the second round straightaway would always prove tough, but McIlroy had soldiered through well, playing his front-nine – starting at the 10th – in level-par after a birdie at the par-five 16th was cancelled out by a bogey at the 18th.
If you need any further indication of how tough the wind was making play, you need look no further than the fact that McIlroy hit a 7-iron into the 136-yard 17th and then driver, 3-iron into the 436-yard 18th.
“I hit a 7-iron today that pitched 123 or 124, and my 7-iron goes between 185 and 190. So playing 60 yards of wind,” he laughed.
If he will be frustrated by how his round ended, McIlroy did have other chances to pick up shots before his disappointing finish, namely a three-putt par on the par-five second and a seven-footer that slid by on the par-five ninth. But all he can do now is wait.
One man who should be comfortably inside the cut mark is Seamus Power, who mastered the conditions to rise up the leaderboard on Saturday before play was suspended due to darkness.
The Waterford man still has two holes to complete of his second round, and unfortunately they are the 17th and 18th, but at two-under he is well on his way to booking two more tee-times on the Stadium Course at three-under for the week and he may well consider himself in the running for the title.
Turning round quickly after finishing his first round on Saturday afternoon, Power made up for a three-putt par on the par-five second with a 25-footer for birdie at the third, although he saw a seven-footer slip by on the par-four fourth before a failed sand save led to a dropped shot on the seventh.
But back-to-back birdies at the 11th and 12th had him motoring up the leaderboard and he will return to action on Sunday morning with his first shot his tee ball on the 17th, knowing that a good result could be his ticket to Augusta and a place in next month’s Masters.
As they have been since Thursday evening, Tommy Fleetwood and Tom Hoge are still the leading duo at six-under, Fleetwood playing three holes of his second round before being called off the course, while Hoge hasn’t even returned to the course yet.
Their lead is still one over Joaquin Niemann, Keith Mitchell and Anirban Lahiri, all three of whom have yet to complete a hole of their second rounds and will resume their tournaments on Sunday morning.
The same applies to Clara man Shane Lowry, who hasn’t touched a club in anger since Thursday evening but will be back at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday morning to play his full second round, starting at one-over and likely needing a round of 72 or better to stick around for the final two rounds.
Bubba Watson produced the completed round of the day with a bogey-free four-under 68 hugely impressive under the circumstances to move him up to three-under, with Justin Thomas – playing alongside McIlroy – also bogey-free in signing for a 69 to sit at the same overall score.
As it stands, tournament organisers are still confident the tournament will be completed on Monday, but any further delays due to the weather could require a quick redraw of the plan.
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