Few survive horror show

Australian world No. 1 Jason Day gesturing after missing an eagle putt on the 16th green during the third round. Despite a 73, he still held a four-shot lead heading into yesterday's final round.
Australian world No. 1 Jason Day gesturing after missing an eagle putt on the 16th green during the third round. Despite a 73, he still held a four-shot lead heading into yesterday's final round.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Even world No. 1 has bad day with super-fast greens, tough pin positions and steady wind

PONTE VEDRA BEACH (Florida) • Welcome to Rocky Horror Picture Show meets PGA Tour.

As Jason Day stood on a Sawgrass podium at Saturday lunchtime, he had little interest in his second-round 66 (129 total) and breaking of a 36-hole scoring record at golf's Players Championship.

Reaching No. 1 in the world clearly offers an enhanced level of foresight. But the Australian realised the prospect of the course's imminent revenge.

It duly arrived on a brutal afternoon during which the finest players in golf were routinely made to look stupid.

They had nightmares on greens that suddenly turned glassy and lightning-fast and caused scores to soar in low humidity at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course.

"That was a bit of a shock," said Adam Scott (75). Keegan Bradley (76) dubbed enhanced green speeds in a strengthening breeze as "questionable". Sergio Garcia (77) five-putted on the sixth green.

Martin Kaymer (76), a past champion here, took a nine at the 14th. Justin Rose? Two sevens in a 78. Even Day was bitten, courtesy of a four-putt on the sixth.

"Joke," was the term he used to describe conditions at that point.

Hideki Matsuyama's third-round 67 was astonishing. American Ken Duke's 65 touching the realms of remarkable. "It was crazy tough," said the bashful Japanese.

They were the only players to break 69 on a day when 76 of the world's best golfers combined for 149 three-putts, almost two per player.

Nobody had a bogey-free round as the field shot an average score of 75.6 strokes.

With 18 holes to play, Day sits at 14-under 202, holding a four-shot lead over Matsuyama, Duke and German Alex Cejka (72). But the Australian's 73 was saved in part by a chip in for par at the 15th.

"This was the toughest day I've ever had to play in my life," he said. "The greens got a little bit out of hand on the front side. Some of the pin locations were a little iffy with how quick the greens were.

"I was very shocked... That's all you could do, just try to survive. Talk about slow play. They make the course nearly unplayable."

Rory McIlroy retained hopes of a tilt at Day when reaching the turn in 35 but, unusually, suffered back-nine trouble.

The world No. 3's 75 - including 37 putts - left him nine adrift. "A few holes were borderline unfair," complained the Northern Irishman.

Further comment was not short in appearing. "You hit putts on the putting green and you get on the first green and it's like - 'S**t, this is two feet quicker,'" said Ernie Els.

Rose said: "We didn't have a lot of wind the first few days so the scoring was good. You saw guys in the morning score well and guys in the afternoon not score so well.

"The course didn't need that much protecting if you think that the leaders go out in the afternoon."

Billy Horschel joined the party. "I felt like I was putting on dance floors," he said.

Mark Russell of the PGA Tour offered a defence. "What happened today was just kind of a perfect storm," he said. "We weren't expecting a 20mph (32kmh wind) all day, humidity 30 per cent, not a cloud in the sky. The greens just sped up on us."

Four men have enjoyed a lead of four shots or better heading into the final round at the championship but only one, Greg Norman in 1994, won.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Few survive horror show'. Print Edition | Subscribe