PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Just past 5 p.m. ET, right around the time folks eat “supper” in this slice of the South, and less than hour shy of the originally scheduled conclusion at TPC Sawgrass, Tom Hoge and Sam Burns finally set out for the third round of The Players Championship.
The duo was putting the pieces of a broken week back together with the event’s eighth Monday finish looming. Seven of those eight Monday finales were in March (the exception was the 1974 Players, which was held in September), but that’s armchair content for another day.
Cold fronts, torrential rain and savage winds were always on the menu when the PGA Tour relocated its marquee stop back to March in 2019, but the worst-case scenarios likely didn’t count on multiple days of near-washout conditions that led Hoge and Burns – along with Harold Varner III in the day’s final three-ball – to their twilight tee time.
“Last three, four days," Paul Casey specified. "I don't know if I've ever had two full days off at a tournament. How would I characterize it? It's been weird."
But then weather delays and Monday finishes are nothing new on Tour. As surreal as sitting around the Sawgrass Marriott for two days is, the bigger issue after four soggy and wind-whipped days was an unlucky draw.
There’s nothing fair about golf, but the way the delays and suspensions fell, the early-late wave enjoyed a distinct advantage with most from that side of the draw finishing their opening rounds on a relatively warm and windless Thursday.
The late-early side of the draw, however, spent the next three days playing catch up and suffering through three distinct seasons (fall, winter and spring).
“The 15-20 mph winds haven’t materialized this morning. And [while] 2 [over] still might make it I’m amazed it’s not inside the cut line yet,” Lee Westwood tweeted early Saturday. “I haven’t seen this big a discrepancy between morning and afternoon waves in a good few years.”
Seven players at 2 over did make the cut – a group that included world No. 5 Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy – thanks to a dreadful finish for Scott Piercy that included a quadruple-bogey 7 at the island-green 17th and a bogey at the last.
Of the 71 players who made the cut, 44 came from the early-late wave, which didn’t have to play in Saturday’s tempest that included sustained winds of 25 mph and gusts of 35 mph. Just a single player from the late-early wave, Doug Ghim, was inside the top 15 when the second round finally ended.
“You get good draws, you get bad draws. Had my fair share of bad ones. Probably had my fair share of good ones but you never remember those, you just complain about the bad ones,” laughed Tommy Fleetwood, who was among the early-late fortunate. “We've had it amazing for two days, we really, really have, and I consider myself very lucky. It's nice to make the most of it.”
The program will pick back up at 8 a.m. Monday morning with the final group on the 10th tee. Anirban Lahiri took over the top spot with six birdies through his first 11 holes when the horn blew just after the official sunset. For the fourth consecutive day, players shuffled off the course with no real closure.
“Long,” said Casey when asked to sum up his day. “Started in the dark and got home in the dark. But productive.”
When play resumes, nine players will be within three shots of the lead, including major champion Francesco Molinari (three back) and Casey (two back). The current plan is to complete Round 3, re-group and send the leaders off for a 6:30 p.m. finish. As plans go, it checks out.
The week began with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan reminding both the Saudi-backed super golf league and Phil Mickelson that this is the Tour’s house, followed by a gloriously emotional Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Tiger Woods. Following months of distractions, the stage was finally set for the game – not those who wish to disrupt the status quo or those who were keen to leverage the intrusion – to become the main event. After four brutally tough days the richest purse in golf – $20 million – and the most relentless TPC has one more day to deliver.