LOS ANGELES – A weary version of Groundhog Day droned on for the Genesis Open field on Saturday – up at dawn, play what you can, head for the exits when the horn sounds to suspend play because of darkness, again.
The only reprieve for Saturday’s edition is that the assembled cast scrambled to make up for lost time under clear, sunny skies. You know, more SoCal than Siberia. Unfortunately, according to the weatherman, it won’t last.
The PGA Tour may or may not have avoided its second consecutive Monday finish, but if things don’t move along like they hope it won’t be from a lack of trying.
When third-round play resumes at 6:45 a.m. PT, the anchor threesome of Justin Thomas, Adam Scott and J.B. Holmes will have 34 holes remaining at a tournament that has become the “[Interstate] 405” of events - with a parade of starts and stops and nothing but break lights as far as the eye can see.
For a game that’s not exactly known for its breakneck pace, Sunday’s final frame promises to be a prolonged sprint to a hopeful finish. Although golf has traditionally been more focused on finesse over fitness, this may well come down to a strongman contest.
“This has been something like seven out of eight days I've been up at 5 a.m., so that's tough, and tomorrow's no different,” said Jordan Spieth, who was at 7 under and six shots off the lead when darkness dictated the week’s third stoppage. “Going from last week [at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am] to this week with the same conditions where it's kind of softer ground and then getting up early, it can be physically taxing. But I should have an advantage, being 25, over most of the other guys.”
Just imagine how 48-year-old Phil Mickelson, who won last week’s 5K at Pebble Beach, feels? Lefty probably won’t pull off the rare doubleheader at Riviera Country Club, considering he’ll begin the final day a dozen shots off the lead, but he’s officially flirting with ironman status after having his first hole – a par at No. 10 that included shots from three different bunkers – wiped from the records when officials opted to restart the round on Thursday.
The more likely forty-something to make a move on Sunday is Tiger Woods - who played a five-hole stretch, albeit over four hours, in 6 under par. That run included a birdie at his final hole of the second round to fully secure himself a weekend tee time and a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie start to Round 3.
Woods’ charge left him seven shots off the lead and at 6 under when play was stopped. Not bad for a player who began his week with four three-putts in his opening round.
“I hit a few good shots, but I made some putts,” Woods said. “I didn’t have four three-putts out there. That was a positive and I got off to a nice little roll.”
Still, Woods will need to continue at that torrid pace if he hopes to close the gap and end a victory drought at Riviera that stretches back two and a half decades.
Although there’s plenty of time left on the game clock there are currently a dozen players between Tiger and the lead, which was held by world No. 4 Thomas, and a looming endurance test that will feature temperatures in the 40s when he picks up where he left off and more rain possible.
“It’s going to be a long one,” said Woods, who added he planned to wake up at 2 a.m. to start preparing for Sunday. “It’s just going to be a lot of walking and the last couple days it’s definitely testing the body.”
Woods has a pretty good idea what he’s up against with Thomas, who he was paired with for the first two rounds. It was a testament to how disjointed the week has been that Thomas teed off for his third round less than 40 minutes before sunset and quickly pulled away from the field with an eagle at the first, and had just hit his drive at the third hole when the ubiquitous horn blew.
“I think I've seen briefly the forecast is pretty difficult, so I'm going to need to be patient because I'm playing so many holes,” Thomas said. “It’s a long day and stay in it emotionally and stay patient, see what we can do.”
Adam Scott was alone in second place at 12 under par. The Australian might have the only advantage given the week’s weather challenges having won the 2005 Genesis Open after the event was shortened to 36 holes because of rain, and officials had to create a makeshift hole around puddles for a Monday playoff.
Scott conceded Sunday promises to be a long day, but he also understands the importance of momentum when a tournament is reduced to seemingly nonstop loops, regardless of how many holes remain.
“It's a big day, a lot of golf. It's a great day to get your rhythm early and make a move,” Scott explained as he set off into the night for the third straight day.
By now this routine was familiar. Groundhog Day.