Still Anybody’s Tournament

When you start looking at the leaderboard after the second round of The Players, there are a lot of familiar names but none jump out as current superstars in the game. Get down around even par and you find the top players in the world: Number one Dustin Johnson at even par, #2 Rory McIlroy also at even, #3 Jason Day at -2 and #4 Hideki Matsuyama at one under. I’ve always thought that The Players should adopt the rule to allow anybody who is within 10 shots of the lead to make the cut. The golf course lends itself to being able to make up 10 shots over two rounds. In 2017 players within eleven shots of the leader will play on the weekend. The cut was at two over par.

“I thought that the course was a little more gettable than that,” world number two McIlroy said after posting a one under 71 in the second round. “But it just shows, it’s Sawgrass, it’s tricky, you got to hit some really quality shots to get the ball close and give yourself opportunities for birdies. I shot under par at the end of the day and I’m in for the weekend, which was the main objective going out this morning.”

Playing with the number one player in the world and former champ Matt Kuchar, Rory found it interesting that after 36 holes, all three of them posted even par.

“You wouldn’t have thought looking at the three of us today and yesterday that we’d all finish on even par. We all sort of did it in a different way.. I thought the course was — it felt gettable, but looking at the scores, no one went super low. I wish I could have been closer to the lead, but the guys haven’t went that low, so tomorrow morning maybe shoot us a low one and get myself back in the tournament.”

After a second round one-over par 73, Johnson didn’t like anything about his game but was still playing on the weekend.

“Yeah, I can’t blame anything on anyone but myself,” he said. “The golf course, it wasn’t — it’s playing difficult, but if you hit good shots you can shoot a good score. Good scores are out there, I just didn’t play well enough to shoot a good score.”

Last week in Wilmington, Johnson made the cut on the number and was in contention to win on Sunday after a low Saturday round. He hopes the same think happens this weekend. “I’ll probably be teeing off pretty early and go out and post a good number and get myself back in the golf tournament,” he explained. “If the lead’s around 6- or 7-under,(it’s 9 under) that’s still within reach, absolutely.”

As the defending champ, Day also tied the course record last year at 63 so he’s not afraid to shoot a low number. He’s at -2, seven behind the leader but believes a low number on Saturday would put him in contention.

“Yeah, you don’t really need too much around here.. It’s difficult to try and close around here, but I need a good one tomorrow.

I asked Jason if they can set the golf course up so somebody could go out there and shoot a low number tomorrow.

“I hope so,” he deadpanned to much laughter by the assembled media.

“That would be nice,” he continued. “It’s just that some of the changes — you take 15 for instance, that’s, they lengthened that by 20 yards and usually I would be hitting a 2-iron there with a wedge. Now I’m hitting driver and 9-irons in there. So they definitely made the golf course a lot tougher. I think there’s opportunity over the next two days to really kind of catch up to hopefully to the lead.”

Also at two under par, Phil Mickelson thinks a low number will be shot on Saturday morning.

“I think the guy that is going to be leading tomorrow is going to be somebody that’s at like even, 1-under par right now that goes out early and has a chance to shoot a low round,” he said. “Because as the day wears on, the course firms up, dries out and it gets a lot more difficult.”

Any round in the 60’s would be fine for him tomorrow said the 2007 champ. So he thinks a good round puts him in the thick of it.

“Yeah, I think anybody that made the cut has a really good shot,” he explained. “But especially if you’re even, 1-under, I think those guys go out a little early and I think they could shoot 6-, 7-under par and get right back in it. I know there was probably a couple of those today, but I don’t see many of those out there.”

After a stellar 2016, 2004 champ Adam Scott has struggled since the first of the year. But despite back-to-back double bogeys yesterday on 17 and 18, he’s still within striking distance at two under par. He said he hit a couple of loose shots and that always costs you at the Stadium Course.

“But you know, I’m going to have to sharpen that up for the weekend,” he said after his round. “The rhythm of the swing wasn’t quite there today like it was yesterday, so if I can just go out and find that for tomorrow, I like where I’m at.

Scott agreed that the golf course doesn’t appear to be as difficult as it’s playing. And the scores reflect that.

“I’m not quite sure why the scoring isn’t better. It just must be tricky out there. You know, everyone trying to come to terms with a few little changes here and there. The greens certainly aren’t fast. They’re firm, and maybe it was a tough set of pins today. I don’t know, it was just tough to get it close. You know, this course you have to ball strike it to death to kind of limit the mistakes, and if you hit one off line, it’s hard work getting it back on track.”

Without much focus, Masters Champion Sergio Garcia kept himself in the tournament with an ace on 17 yesterday and got to even par with a 71 on Friday including a birdie on eighteen. He admits it’s been tough to come back after his win at Augusta and compete in the Players as his first time back.

“Definitely, I’m not going to lie, it has been difficult. But even like that, I felt like I fought hard the last two days after a terrible start, and it’s a shame because today without playing amazing, I felt like I could have shot 3-, 4-under par and that would have been really, really good. Unfortunately, I let a couple slip away there towards the end, but I played well the last two holes with the pressure of making sure that I didn’t do anything stupid so I could be here on the weekend, and hopefully I can free up a little bit on the weekend and have a solid two days.”

As a pure ball striker, it’s no surprise Garcia has the best record here among players who have been in the tournament since he won in 2008. But his mental state, as he admits, has been off since he teed it up yesterday.

“It has been overwhelming, I’m not going to lie. I haven’t won a Major and I haven’t won the Masters before, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect and what to feel. I’ve hit some really good shots but I hit some shots that I wasn’t hitting lately, so I need to kind of tighten that up a little bit.”