Players Championship report: What happened at TPC Sawgrass?
Since the beginning of 2018, Rory McIlroy has played the final group on Sunday no fewer than nine times. He went on to win precisely zero.
So it was perhaps a relief on Saturday when, despite completing the first 54 holes in exactly the same amount of shots as third-round playing partner Tommy Fleetwood, it was the Englishman who was placed in the final pairing with leader Jon Rahm on the first in, last out rule.
Without that additional pressure looming on his shoulders, McIlroy snatched a one-shot victory on a captivating day at TPC Sawgrass, where at one point there were 17 players within four shots of the lead. Even with the final handful of pairings coming down the stretch, any one of eight players could have won it.
Jim Furyk, playing some incredible golf since handing the Ryder Cup captaincy to Steve Stricker, set the target at 15-under which was eventually good enough for 2nd, while Players debutant Eddie Pepperell, whose joint round-of-the-day 66 which included a mesmerising birdie at 17, gave the Englishman a share for 3rd.
— Skratch (@Skratch) March 17, 2019
Alongside Pepperell was Jhonattan Vegas, who also carded a 66 that included a special moment on the island green.
!!!!!!!!!! WHAT?! pic.twitter.com/VTp4lZxdVP
— Skratch (@Skratch) March 17, 2019
For McIlroy, whose record in 2019 reads 4th-5th-4th-2nd-6th-1st, his 2-under-par 70 was enough for a St Patrick’s Day victory at PGA Tour HQ.
McIlroy becomes just the 5th European to win The Players, joining Sandy Lyle, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer, and just the second from the United Kingdom.
— THE PLAYERS (@THEPLAYERSChamp) March 17, 2019
McIlroy has become just the third player in the four-major era to have won 15 or more PGA Tour titles, including four majors, before the age of 30.
I don’t think we need to tell you who the other two are.
Players Championship report: Talking points (Sunday)
Can we go just one round without someone picking up a penalty for an obscure rules infraction?
This time it was the defending champion, Webb Simpson, who came a cropper on the 14th hole for accidentally causing his ball to move.
If you think you’ve heard it all as well, wait for this. He apparently caught his long putter in his shirt and slightly moved the ball, which was lying fractionally off the green in the fringe.
As a result, he had to take a one shot penalty. Annoyingly for Webb, had he done it on the green he’d have been able put it back without any cost.
The penalty doesn’t apply when a ball is accidentally moved on the putting surface.
Needless to say, he was less than impressed when asked about it after he finished with a 68 to sit just inside the top 20.
Webb Simpson on ruling at No 14 that led to a one-stroke penalty. "So this is where I'm going to be loud and clear, we have to get intent into the rules. We have to. Because it's killing our game when it comes to these kind of things,” he said.
— Rex Hoggard (@RexHoggardGC) March 17, 2019
Maybe we’re just paying more attention but it’s three months now since the new rules came into effect and the laws are dominating every single tournament.
You do feel like something has to bend, or break. Surely they can’t keep going on like this from week to week?
Jim Furyk may have been a shot short in his bid to become the oldest participant to triumph at The Players – he would have been 23 days older than 2005 champ Fred Funk – but the 48-year-old has proved his days of winning PGA Tour events aren’t quite over yet.
Steps up when he needed it most.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 17, 2019
Ryder Cup captaincy is usually the death-knell for the career of a late-40s veteran but Furyk’s been in decent form all season for anyone who was surprised by his surge at Sawgrass.
He hasn’t won since the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town in 2015 but Furyk has suffered wrist and shoulder injuries, as well as shepherding Team USA at Le Golf National, and has finally been free this year to concentrate on playing and practising.
If you’d thought he’d lost any of his competitive drive, check out what he said when we caught up with him a couple of weeks before his heroics at Ponte Vedra Beach.
“To win on the PGA Tour again would mean probably as much or more than any win in my career.
“If I could win one more time, out on Tour, it would mean a lot to me. I’m healthy again. The last year I was healthy was 2015 and I was ranked fourth in the world that year.
“I’m older now, and a different player now, but I’d really like to see what I could do on Tour and how I could compete and how competitive I could be.”
You want to know how hard it is to win? Consider the struggles of the 54-hole leader down the years at The Players.
The last person in pole position after round three to post a score in the 60s at Sawgrass was Stephen Ames back in 2006. The average final round score of the man in front with 18 to go was 74.9 before today.
Jon Rahm didn’t improve that. His back nine troubles, and a dunk at 17 that resulted in a double bogey, saw him shoot 76.
Webb Simpson is one of only four third-round leaders – Tiger in 2013, Martin Kaymer in 2014 and Jason Day in 2016 are the others – who’ve managed to get it done.
Players Championship report: The talking points (Saturday)
A day after a quad 7 effectively ended his chances, Tiger Woods saw a five shot swing on his return to the 17th.
The GOAT hit it to three feet and made the birdie, while enjoying some fun and games with Kevin Na.
This is the best. pic.twitter.com/TSg1yke149
— Skratch (@Skratch) March 16, 2019
That’s probably the fastest Na has ever moved on a golf course and perhaps the point wasn’t lost on the 14-time major champion as he playfully mocked him with his own 2.
But looming larger was whether Woods could actually have avoided such a championship-wrecking score during his second round.
To recap, Tiger hit his tee shot on Friday into the drink and then repeated the trick from the drop zone before finding the putting surface with his 5th and needing two to find the bottom of the cup.
The Golf Channel, though, revealed he had a multi-shot saving alternative – considering the point his ball crossed the penalty area.
With the penalty line being yellow, they believed he could have kept his point of entry between him and the hole and then dropped wherever he wanted on that line.
So as his ball crossed the walkway, and because of the position of the flag towards the back of the green, he could have found a line that meant he could have dropped on the walkway and been chipping or putting for par.
Preparing for our segment last night, I sent this pic to the rules official to make sure we had it right. Tiger could have had a 30 foot putt for par through the fringe on 17 yesterday. The most dangerous hole in golf addles the brains of all us sooner or later. pic.twitter.com/0UKOGWNN60
— Brandel Chamblee (@chambleebrandel) March 16, 2019
Much has been made of Tommy Fleetwood’s Saturday struggles and it was another difficult third verse for the Southport native.
He ranked 201st on the PGA Tour in third-round scoring average this season before today and, after a 76 in the penultimate act torpedoed his chances at Bay Hill last week, a double at the first was the last thing he needed.
It rarely looked comfortable at any point, the 28-year-old fighting a hook for most of the round, but he showed some real grit down the stretch with four birdies – the highlight a wonderful wedge at 17 – and kept his hopes well and truly alive.
It’s been raining hole in ones at The Players. After a blank 2018, Seamus Power’s perfect shot on the 3rd was the third this week – following Ryan Moore on day 1 at 17 and Sungjae Im at the 13th on day 2.
☘️ Hole-in-one ☘️
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 16, 2019
That leaves us just one away from tying the record for the most aces in a Players Championship with Justin Leonard, Jesper Parvenik, Henrik Stenson and Fred Couples all finding the target with one shot in 2006.
All of those hole in ones came on the 13th. This time, we only need the 8th to complete the full set of par 3s.
That might prove a bit tricky with the hole playing a chunky 238 yards on Saturday.
There have been six aces there in the 45-year history of The Players – the last of which was struck by Michael Thompson six years ago.
Players Championship report: The talking points (Friday)
Despite no weather delays, the second round failed to finish on Friday with some having to come back on Saturday to clean up.
McIlroy, whose group including Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar took five hours 19 minutes to complete 18 holes, was asked after his round why the pace of play was so slow. He replied:
Because they don’t do anything about it.
“It’s become somewhat of an epidemic on tour.
McIlroy added that it was “unacceptable” that play wasn’t completed on Sunday.
The PGA Tour is already under fire for slow play, and it seems momentum is building to put an end to it.
Watch this space…
Poulter’s round was as impressive as it was bizarre, but Ponte Vedra resident Jim Furyk is back to his scintillating best after a best-of-the-day 64.
The 48-year-old looks to be enjoying his golf again after ending his Ryder Cup captain duties and he is making the most of playing in the PGA Tour’s flagship event just around the corner from home.
He rolled back the years briefly topped the leaderboard and had us on 59-watch for a bit – Furyk, remember, is the only player to ever card sub-60 twice on the professional tours.
One off the course record for @JimFuryk!
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 15, 2019
We spoke to Furyk on a recent trip to PGA Tour headquarters. Don’t bet against him being up there on Sunday.
So much of the talk ahead of this tournament revolves around the magic and madness of the 17th hole, and on Friday we saw a stunning example of that madness as the Tiger Woods made a quadruple-bogey 7.
The 14-time major champion dropped his tee shot into the water and his third from the drop zone also found the drink.
He almost lost as many balls as Steve Carroll did when we played TPC Sawgrass last month…
It just goes to show, nobody is immune from the tribulations of the island green no matter how mighty you are.
Golf is hard.
Tiger Woods puts two in the water on No. 17. ? pic.twitter.com/xEqCMx04Z0
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 15, 2019
The ace count at the Players Championship is now 30 as debutant Sungjae Im holed out from the tee box at 13.
The South Korean’s shot upped that particular hole’s tally to 12…
? ANOTHER ACE ALERT ?
The perfect spin for Sungjae Im!
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 15, 2019
Im became the second player to card a hole-in-one this week after Ryan Moore slam dunked his tee-shot at the iconic 17th on Thursday. (You can see that later on.)
For the record, Im went on to find the water at 17. Because golf.
Players Championship report: The talking points (Thursday)
OK, here we go again – rules watch on the PGA Tour. This time it was Harold Varner III who saw his 72 become a two-over 74 thanks to a two-shot penalty, writes Mark Townsend.
The American noticed a crack in his driver before he got his first round underway and told the officials that he would start with 13 clubs and get his driver built and brought to him out on the course.
All of which is fine. What then went wrong is that his agent ferried the clubhead and a scorer brought the shaft, the two parts were then put together and Varner then hit a drive with it.
According to the rules, you can’t assemble a club on the course and then use it and the rule, which isn’t a new one, is in place to stop players from building a club to suit the conditions.
Here’s what Rule 4.1b(4) says:
Rule 4.1b(4) restricts a player from building a club from parts that he or she is carrying or parts that any other person is carrying for him or her. It does not restrict the player from retrieving parts to build a club or having parts brought to him or her.
“For example, if a player is permitted to add a club (see Rule 4.1b(1)) or replace a damaged club (see Rule 4.1b(3)), club components brought from the clubhouse (such as a player’s locker), the golf shop, or a manufacturer’s truck, or other similar locations, are not considered to be “carried by anyone for the player during the round” and are allowed to be assembled by the player or anyone else.
Had they built up the club before bringing it out – so not on the course – then that would have been fine.
PGA Tour rules official Mark Russell explained: “He couldn’t take that shaft with him on the course. (The club) cannot be assembled on the course. His caddie was told that when he asked one of our officials. So he left it there on the tee, and the walking scorer picked it up and took it on the course, and Harold and the caddie were aware of this. So when they brought the head out and assembled it out there, it broke Rule 4.
“I guess they (the walking scorer) were thinking they were helping out or whatever, but when Harold and his caddie were aware that a walking scorer was carrying the golf club and it was assembled on the golf course, that’s when it violated the rule.”
David Fabel was the first to do it in 1986, on Thursday Ryan Moore became the ninth player to hole out at the iconic 17th hole. The American slam-dunked his tee shot to the front pin having hit the flag and taken a nice chunk out of the hole in the process.
Others to also make one at 17 are Brian Claar, Fred Couples, Joey Sindelar, Paul Azinger, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Willy Wilcox and Sergio Garcia two years ago.
Five of the nine have come on the first day when the pin is generally in the most amenable location.
? HOLE-IN-ONE ?
SLAM DUNK FOR @RYANMOOREPGA!
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 14, 2019
Spare a thought for our tipster Steve Carroll, who backed no aces…
My no hole in one bet didn't even get past the first day… ?
— Steve Carroll (@SteveCarrollNCG) March 14, 2019
Even rarer was an albatross two as Harris English holed his long iron at the par-5 11th from 236 yards for just the fifth ‘double eagle’ in tournament history.
English was plodding along before his wonder shot and he then rather mundanely parred in for a 2-under 70.
? ALBATROSS! ?@Harris_English holes it from 236 yards! ??
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 14, 2019
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Contributions from Alex Perry, Joe Hughes, Mark Townsend and Steve Carroll