Jason Day set a scoring record on Saturday morning at The Players Championship, but what happened later in the afternoon will probably be what's remembered most from the third round at TPC Sawgrass.
The PGA Tour, to put it bluntly, let the greens go over the edge. Johnny Miller, who has some experience on lightning fast greens, said they were the fastest he'd ever seen. The conditions were unlike anything most of the players had faced too, and they tweeted, talked and grumbled about it en masse after the round.
Nice to see the @pgatour got out their windmills and clown mouths today!— Scott Piercy (@ScottPiercyPGA) May 14, 2016
The Tour's 'Shinnecock Moment'
Golf Channel's Todd Lewis reported that tour pro Johnson Wagner had a conversation with one PGA Tour official who used the term "our Shinnecock moment" -- a reference to that disaster at the 2004 U.S. Open that forced the USGA to water a green in between shots because one pin location and putting surface simply became unplayable. That incident had an impact for years, influencing how the USGA sets up their premier championship still today.
The Tour is being fairly candid about the mess at Sawgrass and acknowledging things got away from them. They're blaming a perfect storm of an unexpected dip in humidity and increase in winds for the glass-like putting surfaces. It got so bad that Matt Kuchar said he was scared every time he put his putter down on the ground that it would slide accidentally into the ball on what had become a "friction-less" surface. There were five-putts, four-putts and a record number of three-putts in rounds that approach six hours.
It's how you go from a 22-year-old scoring mark falling in the morning to complete carnage and the largest swing in scoring average in the history of the Players later in the day (Read this excellent review from Saturday night for more on how it all went down).
'It made me sick'
Mark Russell, a longtime Tour official, has been the front man taking the heat for the Tour with the media. He's a straight shooter and entertaining guy, as far as golf administrators and rules officials go. Russell went on air with Lewis both Saturday night and Sunday morning, explaining how exactly this happened and what the plans were for Sunday.
Before the interview, Lewis said Russell told him it "made him sick" to watch what was happening on Saturday at The Players. It was a pretty honest admission without much defensiveness, and probably not what you'd get from the USGA when things get extreme at the U.S. Open (they're just now starting to acknowledge that they let the Chambers Bay greens last year become trash). Russell flatly stated that his head agronomist at TPC Sawgrass was "very perplexed by this also."
Golf Channel's Frank Nobilo, in a fascinating demonstration, blamed the second roll mid-morning before the third round started.
So what's the plan for Sunday?
Can it get better or (gulp) even worse?
Some agronomists figured there was little they could do to make it much better but so far, the scores are much lower than the carnage from Saturday.
Russell said that the Tour put water on the greens last night, but that's also something they've done all week. One deviation from the weeklong maintenance schedule was just one cut and one roll on Sunday morning. Previously, they had been double cut and double rolled. The goal was to have the greens running at about 13 on the stimpmeter (a fancy name for a rudimentary device that's basically a ramp they roll the ball down on a flat part of the green -- however far it runs out is the "stimp reading").
The Tour also made multiple changes in the original pin locations, which were a contributing factor to the drama in the third round. Almost every pin on Saturday was six paces or so from the edge of a green. Sunday morning, the Tour sent out TWO revised pin sheets, which is extremely rare and a clear signal they were concerned and trying to figure it out for the final round.
Revised!! "Uhhh guys we're going to need to look at this pin considering the greens are stimping 'hockey rink'" https://t.co/hEFoAQGNj5— Roberto Castro (@cicioCASTRO) May 15, 2016
Second @THEPLAYERSChamp pin sheet revision suggests 14th hole was moved from 13 back/6 from RIGHT to 19 back/4 from LEFT. Pretty big change— Geoff Shackelford (@GeoffShac) May 15, 2016
Man, the Tour's killing a lot of trees with these hole location sheets. Second revision of the day.— Adam Schupak (@GolfweekSchupak) May 15, 2016
So far, the changes seem to be paying off -- a good swath of the morning wave is under-par. The interesting thing about Saturday was that the greens were still somewhat soft and receptive. Several pros mentioned this -- approach shots into the greens were holding and checking, not just bouncing off concrete and way off the green. The problem came up on the greens where the best in the world were three- and four-putting with regularity and struggled to lag anything within five feet.
The afternoon winds and a day's worth of play should make the greens crustier and more unpredictable for the leaders, but it does appear we're not in for the extreme conditions from Saturday. That doesn't mean it will look pretty on your television though:
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