Jason Day didn’t have his best stuff at Quail Hollow, but it was enough. The LPGA went just 36 holes in Texas, but that apparently was enough. Get set now for all the splash that defines TPC Sawgrass.
By the way, Jim Furyk, The Starter regrets to inform you he won’t be available for Ryder Cup duty come September.
1. Jason Day signals he’s ready to take aim at No.1 again. It was two years ago that Day appeared ready to hold that top spot for a long time. Family challenges intervened, though, leaving him winless until January. Back-to-back bogeys made Sunday interesting at the Wells Fargo Championship, but the grit was impressive.
2. The LPGA says 36 is enough in Texas. Sung Hyun Park claimed her third career win at the LPGA Texas Classic, where high winds followed by torrential rain prompted officials to declare a 36-hole tournament. But with no LPGA event this week, why not have played to a 54-hole Monday finish?
3. Really, Rory McIlroy loves the Opens. McIlroy had to walk back comments saying he “doesn’t care” about the U.S. Open or Open Championship while lauding the Masters as the biggest tournament in golf. It also might have to do with the idea that a green jacket is the only missing piece in his major collection.
THIS WEEK’S LINEUP
PGA Tour: The Players Championship
Course: TPC Sawgrass (Stadium)
Where: Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Defending: Si Woo Kim
European Tour: Rocco Forte Sicilian Open
Course: Verdura Golf Club
Where: Agrigento, Italy
Defending: Alvaro Quiros
Web.com Tour: Knoxville Open
Course: Fox Den CC
Where: Knoxville, Tenn.
2017 Champion: Talor Gooch
Jason Day’s second victory of 2018 not only moved him back inside the world’s top 10, it leaves him No.5 on the list of most world ranking points earned since the calendar flipped.
Bubba Watson tops that chart, also with two wins but one of them coming at the WGC Match Play back in March. Masters champion Patrick Reed is next, before a gap that leads to a cluster of Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Day separated by less than three points.
1. Bubba Watson (17th) 169.59
2. Patrick Reed (10) 162.72
3. Justin Thomas (2) 149.44
4. Jon Rahm (3) 146.80
5. Jason Day (7) 146.75
6. Phil Mickelson (19) 140.40
7. Rory McIlroy (8) 135.39
8. Dustin Johnson (1) 118.31
9. Paul Casey (12) 101.88
10. Tommy Fleetwood (14) 98.10
STAT OF THE WEEK
A total of 703 golf balls have landed in the water surrounding TPC Sawgrass’ famed 17th hole in the 15 years since PGA Tour officials began stationing someone out there to keep tabs – an average of 46.9 per year, or 11.7 per round.
Last year, in fact, produced the second-highest figures on both fronts, with 69 splashdowns for the tournament and 29 on Friday alone. Both records are held by the wind-whipped 2007 edition, which saw 50 shots that went glub in the first round and 93 in all.
The career record for balls in the water is 13, set by Aaron Baddeley over 14 starts from 2004 to last year. He’s not in this week’s field, leaving Phil Mickelson as the active leader with eight.
STAT OF THE WEEK II
For all the attention that gets focused on No.17, it does not hold the top spot for watery endings at TPC Sawgrass. That belongs to the hole that follows – the par-4 18th, with water hugging the entire left side, enters the week with a 704-703 lead.
HOLE OF THE WEEK
No.18, TPC Sawgrass (Stadium)
Par 4, 462 yards
2017 average: 4.49 (toughest)
Though the iconic No.17 gets the TV time, the crowds and the magazine covers, pros know not to exhale too deeply as they make their way through the tunnel leading from the nearly island green to the final tee.
No.18 ranked as the second toughest hole on the entire PGA Tour schedule last year, marking the fourth time in the past decade that it’s been among the top 15. If there’s a tougher closing hole, it’s usually from a major championship.
“I think the hardest tee shot to hit where you would have the best angle into a green is the 18th,” said Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee. “I’m not sure anybody in their right mind would take on the risk of putting it down the left side.”
Indeed, the scatter chart shows even the PGA Tour’s best tend to end up right of the fairway. In that case, the water’s going to come more into play on the approach. Since ShotLink debuted more than a decade ago, no hole has produced a lower ratio of greens in regulation – 44 percent.
2017 The Players: no eagles, 37 birdies, 226 pars, 120 bogeys, 45 double bogeys, 12 higher
After the PGA Tour acquired the wetlands that would become TPC Sawgrass, then-commissioner Deane Beman brought designer Pete Dye on board with one directive – create the most complete test that anyone had seen, favoring no style of play.
Dye made it happen, taking pains ensure no two consecutive holes play in the same direction, doglegs were carved out in both directions and both short and long holes were offered at every par.
Player reaction was pretty much unanimous – most everyone hated it. Too many forced carries. Too many awkward angles. Too undulating. “I’ve never been good at stopping 5-irons on the hoods of Volkswagens,” said none other than Jack Nicklaus.
Jerry Pate won the inaugural edition at the Stadium Course, using a birdie/birdie finish to finish two shots ahead of Scott Simpson and Brad Bryant. Then he added a little levity – and exacted a bit of revenge.
Calling Beman and Dye over to a bulkhead with the ploy of wanting to point something out, Pate shoved the commish into the pond and followed with Dye, then dove in behind them.
“And there was a big alligator in that lake,” Dye recalled a few years ago. “Fortunately it wasn’t on duty.”
DID YOU KNOW
Not only has no one in the 44-year history of The Players Championship won back-to-back crowns, recent defending champions have found it a struggle just to crack the top 10. The last time that happened was 2005, when Adam Scott tied for eighth behind Fred Funk.
Even if Si Woo Kim simply manages a top-25 finish, that’ll be the first by a defending champion since 2009. The eight since then have produced nothing better than a tie for 48th (Matt Kuchar, 2013), with three missed cuts, a withdrawal and Tiger Woods sitting out the 2014 edition with back woes.
OUT OF THE BLUE
Needless to say, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn was a little flabbergasted to learn that Stephen Atkinson had written to take his name out of consideration for this year’s squad.
First of all, what golfer removes himself for consideration for one of the biggest events on the golf calendar? Secondly, just who is Stephen Atkinson?
Just a golf fan with a sense of humor and some free time. “I had hoped that a good showing in the Open might catch your eye,” he wrote, “but I think I am going to have to recognise that my wife may be correct when she describes me as ‘sadly deluded.’ ”
Bjorn, naturally, had to see what was going on. So he paid a visit to Atkinson’s home in Berkshire, trophy in hand and video crew in tow, to socialize a bit. In the end, he accepted Atkinson’s regrets.
“I thought I’d take this little baby,” Bjorn said of the trophy, “and go and see him and see what he misses out on.”
“I got burned out being No.1. It’s very easy to get burned out in a position that you’re in the spotlight and … it can be demanding at times. You’ve got to give a lot of time to a lot of people and sometimes you don’t get a lot of time to yourself. You know, last year was a good kick in the butt, not playing great and then seeing a lot of the other guys succeed.
“There was no jealousy there or envy. I know what it feels like to win and be in that position, and it was more of a disappointing, you know, emotion that came over me last year saying that I’ve got all this — I feel like I’ve got all this talent. For me to not work as hard as I should be and, you know, because a career, even though it is long in golf, life goes fast.
“To be really that selfish in that mindset to think, okay, well, I’m burnt out and it’s okay to have a year off, that really bugged me. So I really kind of rededicated myself to getting back to No. 1. The biggest thing was to write down goals and know that there’s a process and steps towards that goal. So things like this week are a huge step in the right direction.”
– Jason Day