When it happens in your town, it always seems so huge when weather stops play in the local PGA Tour event. But the guys on tour deal with weather every week. It’s no big deal to them. Sometimes we make a lot about the advantage of playing in the morning vs. playing in the afternoon, and the players know the “luck of the draw” does have an effect on the outcome, but over the course of a year, it probably evens out. That’s why the players were pretty non-plussed about the weather delay at the Players Championship this year.
“We’ll finish 72 holes,” Rocco Mediate said after Friday’s round. “No way this is a 54-hole tournament, they’ll play until they’re done, no matter how long it takes.” And that seems to be the prevailing attitude among all the players. Tell me when to tee it up and that’s when I’ll be there.
When was the last time you heard of a PGA Tour player missing his tee time? Darren Clarke wanted to finish on Friday night despite the darkness toward the end of his round. David Duval was one of his playing partners when they approached the 17th tee, Duval told Clarke he’d come back tomorrow to finish if Clarke wanted to. Clarke said he wanted to get done that night, that he didn’t like to get up early, especially to play one hole as tough as the 18th at the Stadium Course. The other player in the threesome, Garrett Willis agreed. Willis and Duval were not going to make the cut. Their tournament was over as soon as they were done. Clarke was four under par and in touch with the leaders. But they hatched a plan to get finished under the rules.
Knowing the horn was going to blow to suspend play because of darkness, Willis agreed to quickly putt out on 17, hustle to the 18th tee and hit his tee shot, putting their threesome in play on the 18th. The Tour rule allows a group to finish the hole they’re playing once play is suspended for darkness, if they choose. Willis did just that, hitting his tee shot on 18 before Duval and Clarke had even lined up their putts on 17.
“A little bit of a veteran move,” is how Duval described it on Friday night. “Darren said he wanted to finish, but I told him I’d come back tomorrow if he wanted.” As expected, the horn blew before Clarke and Duval had teed off on the 18th, but they were allowed to finish the hole. Clarke made bogies on 17 and 18 and in retrospect cost himself a lot of money and potentially a chance to win. “I wouldn’t do it again,” Clarke said after Saturday’s round put him in touch with the leaders, “but I was all for it last night.”
Maybe because the Players Championship isn’t considered a major by the media (it is by the players themselves) but somehow Davis Love’s final round won’t go down in golf lore as what it most likely is: the best final round in a big tournament ever played. David Duval’s 59 at the Hope a few years ago is pretty strong, but the TPC at Sawgrass’ Stadium Course is treacherous and unforgiving. Love striped it all day and after making birdie on 9, knew it was his tournament to lose.
“The drive on 10 was key,” Davis explained in the darkness an hour after his win, “but I killed my drive on 11 (303 yards, the longest of the day) and Freddie (Couples) said to me, ‘that’s the best drive of the day’ and when I hit my drive on 18 Freddie said, ‘OK, that’s the best drive’.” Love didn’t miss a shot all day and according to Couples, his playing partner, “everything was within a few feet. It was amazing.” By any measure, it would be hard to diminish Love’s career to this point. He’s won a major, he’s a zillionaire, and is considered among the game’s elite. But there is a gnawing thought that somehow his career has fallen short of expectations. “There’s no higher expectation than the one you have of yourself. We all want to be the number one player in the world and we’re not satisfied if we’re not. I know Tiger is a great player, but he doesn’t win every week. I’m going to continue to work like I have been and I won’t be satisfied until I’m ranked number one. Maybe I’ll get there, maybe I won’t, but that’s what I’m working for.”
A long list of players have been set up as Tiger’s foil: Duval, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, but never has Davis Love been mentioned as the man who can challenge Woods’ dominance, and Davis didn’t like that. “I’ve promised myself that I’m going to concentrate on every shot over 72 holes, to get focused in on the target, to work hard and be the best I can be.” Fred Couples, Love’s best friend on tour, says there’s no question Love has the talent to ascend to the top. “Davis likes to do other things, as we all do” Fred said after Sunday’s round, “but I think he’s committed to seeing just where his talent can take him. I know this; I’ve never seen anybody play a round of golf like he did today. It was amazing.”
There was a lot of talk about Love’s potential domination when he arrived on tour. His length, the distance between his head and hands at the top of his back swing, his ability to overpower a golf course, etc. He’s harnessed all of the physical ability, and perhaps his motivation as caught up with that as well. If so, we’re in for a show.