PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – After closing out a frustrating round, Rory McIlroy joined the chorus of players questioning the course setup and conditions during the third round of The Players Championship.
McIlroy had a relatively solid ball-striking round, finding 16 of 18 greens in regulation. But he struggled mightily on the slick greens of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, taking 37 putts. It led to a 3-over 75 that knocked him from the fringe of contention into a tie for 16th.
“I mean, it’s like a U.S. Open out there. I can’t really describe it any other way,” McIlroy said. “I just found I had a really difficult time adjusting to them. I stood up here yesterday and I said it’s amazing how differently the course plays from morning to afternoon, but I didn’t expect it to be like that out there this afternoon. That was borderline unfair on a few holes.”
McIlroy opened his round with a birdie, but he realized conditions had changed when his 85-foot eagle attempt on No. 2 raced nearly 18 feet past the hole. It led to the first of five three-putts on the day, including three such instances in a four-hole stretch on Nos. 10-13 that dropped him off the first page of the leaderboard.
McIlroy especially focused on several of the pin positions which were cut close to slopes despite the green speeds increasing dramatically from Friday’s second round.
“A few pin positions were on crowns, and you dribble a putt by, all of a sudden it’s 6 feet by,” he said. “There was a few pins out there that I felt were just a little too much on the edge.”
McIlroy said that the conditions led him to become tentative with putter in hand, and he found himself becoming defensive even on uphill putts. With course officials set to dig up the greens next week and replace them for 2017, McIlroy knows that steps otherwise taken to preserve the overall health of the greens won’t have to be taken before Sunday’s final round.
“I think they’ve went so far, it’s going to be very hard for them to get it back now,” he said. “I mean, they can water them all they want tonight, but by the time it gets to that first tee time and the sun is beating down on them for four or five hours before the leaders go out, they’ll be the exact same tomorrow afternoon, if not worse.”
McIlroy nearly set a new course record during the second round before settling for a 64, but he didn’t hesitate to put some of the low third-round scores – led by Ken Duke’s 65 – in perspective.
“It was just one of those days. It was tough,” he said. “I mean, you see some of the scores, 65, 67. I mean, that’s way better than any of the 63s that you saw out here the first two days.”