BY DOUG FERGUSON
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The first round of any PGA Tour event reveals little more than the fact three more rounds are left.
The exception at The Players Championship is that Thursday offered a sneak preview into why the TPC Sawgrass is so entertaining to the fans, aggravating to the players and suspenseful for all until the crystal trophy is awarded.
Consider the plight of Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia, who played in the same group. Neighbors in Switzerland, they were nowhere near each other on the leaderboard late in the opening round as Scott moved into a share of the lead and Garcia was 10 shots behind.
The last two holes changed everything.
Garcia, whose experiences on the island-green 17th hole at the Players Stadium Course has ranged from throaty cheers to nasty jeers, hit a gap wedge to the front pin that cleared the water by about 6 feet, took a hard hop and landed just behind the pin, and then had just enough spin to disappear into the cup.
A hole-in-one , the eighth on the par-3 17th in tournament history.
“I hit a good shot, but it can go there, it can go 3 yards past. I don’t know, it can do anything,” Garcia said. “It was nice to see it bounce and kind of spin back into the hole, maybe because I needed it after the start I had.”
By playing the final three holes in nine shots — 3-under par — he salvaged a 1-over 73 and kept himself in the game.
Scott waited for the cheers and celebrations to fade when he took aim. He didn’t catch it perfectly, and the wind kept it out to the right. The ball hit the slope next to a bunker and spun down off the ledge and into the water. Double bogey.
Compounding matters was the 18th hole, with water down the entire left side and trees blocking any tee shot that goes too far to the right. Scott went too far to the right, and so did Garcia. The Spaniard’s ball caromed back toward the fairway, and he was able to punch a shot under the limbs and have it run on the firm fairways to about 50 yards short of the cup. He hit wedge to 4 feet for his par.
Scott’s shot hopped on a cart path and when he took his free relief, the ball buried in thick grass with trees blocking his view. To go sideways, with fairways that fast, meant risking the ball going into the water. He felt he had no choice but to find a gap in the top of the trees and go for the green.
“I didn’t have any other shot,” he said. “I dropped it into the worst lie you could imagine and I would have just chipped it out sideways into the water. I just didn’t believe there was any way I could go anywhere but there, go up over and have it cut a little bit. But it just didn’t cut.”
It did make a splash, and he made another double bogey.
Add them up, and Scott had a 70.
When they stood on the 16th tee, Scott was 10 shots ahead of Garcia. When they signed their cards, the difference was only three.
That’s how quickly it can change on a course that has been described with every word from exciting to dramatic to frightening to aggravating. And yes, the word “thrilling” has been used a time or two.
By the end of the day, which delivered plenty of drama as it often does, Mackenzie Hughes and William McGirt were tied for the lead at 5-under 67. McGirt played in the morning and made bogey on the 18th hole. He also had a pair of eagles on the back nine.
But there were example of swift changes in momentum all day.
Jason Day had the lead in the morning and looked as though he was determined to be the first back-to-back winner at The Players. That lasted until he bogeyed three of his last four holes, one of them on the par-3 eighth when he had to make a 10-foot putt to keep it from being worse.
He was playing with Rickie Fowler, who also had a share of the lead in the morning. One bad shot put him in one bad place — off the cart path at No. 7 and so deep in the trees that it took him two shots to get back to the fairway. He made double bogey, shot 38 on his second nine and had to settle for a 70.
Brooks Koepka had a reasonable day and could have been better than his 74, except for putting his tee shot into the water on both par 3s on the back nine.
It was like that all day. It has been like that every year.
So while the opening two rounds (and sometimes three rounds) are all about position, Scott and Garcia were among those who saw the big picture and realized that after bad starts and bad finishes, they didn’t hurt their chances of winning.
“I played some good golf out there, and unfortunately not on the last two,” Scott said. “It happens.”
Especially at Sawgrass.
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