Freezing temperatures on Sunday were actually a ‘huge’ plus
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Adam Scott’s Sunday at The Players Championship had many layers, and almost all of it was clothing.
Sunday morning, Scott looked like he had stepped out of a ski lodge and into the doors of TPC Sawgrass. He wore two pairs of pants, a jacket, a sweater, a beanie, and a neck warmer pulled high above his nose. For a brief period of time, his ungloved hand was his largest unbroken stretch of exposed skin.
Player Sunday temperatures were freezing, dropping to the mid-30s in the early hours of the day before thankfully climbing into the 40s. Spectators brought blankets, players brought hand warmers and little nearly everyone brought a runny nose.
It was miserable weather – the fourth day in a row, by most estimates. But for pros stuck in the Sunday cold, it was nothing short of a godsend.
“I think I saw JT hit a 6 iron [on the island-green 17th], and there’s a rumor going around that it actually hit 5,” Will Zalatoris said. “I hit a 9 chip today, so I think that tells you how happy I was to play it this morning.”
After two rounds of play – a feat that took four days – Zalatoris was tied for 12th at four under. But that was no surprise. Zalatoris, like each of the 11 players ranked above him in the standings, played in the morning wave in Thursday’s first round.
Most weeks on the PGA Tour, the gap between morning and afternoon waves is marginal. Any advantage accrued on Thursday morning has generally evaporated by the time tee times change the next day.
This week, however, the advantage gained by the Thursday morning group is almost unreasonable. After Thursday’s AM wave moved through balmy, still conditions, the PM wave was asked to complete much of Turn 1 during Friday’s monsoons.
But Friday’s assault turned out to be the easy game portion for the afternoon wave. On Saturday, they returned to the course moments before heavy gusts triggered the National Weather Service to issue a wind warning. The conditions got so treacherous that Keegan Bradley – the proud owner of an Under-71 – called his performance “one of the best runs of my life”.
Thanks to weather delays, Thursday morning’s wave ran out of daylight before battling the winds.
“Thursday was the easiest we’ve ever seen in this place. No wind, ball in hand, soft greens. The greens are probably a foot and a half slower than what we’re used to here,” Zalatoris said. “The wind is picking up again. It’s not like it’s that easy. It’s just easier than it was yesterday.
Even in the freezing temperatures on Sunday, the morning wave found a noticeably friendlier Sawgrass on Sunday. It was evident everywhere, but particularly on the famous green island of 17, where the hurtful right-to-left gusts that forced 19 scoops of water on Saturday were replaced by a much friendlier left-to-right breeze.
Of course it was still frozen. But in this case, most players admitted that the gel was good.
“I thought the course was drying really well,” Zalatoris said of the conditions on Sunday. “The greens are still very soft. The beauty of this is that if we get out there with long irons facing into the wind, we can stick them instead of just hoping they stay on the green.
It’s a radically different story to the one told last night by Justin Thomas, whose Saturday ’69 was the second-fastest lap of the peloton.
“It’s one of those days that I think could be really fun to play if you’re at home,” Thomas “It’s not really fun when it’s TPC Sawgrass for gamers, and you’re in sort of on the cut line to start the day. It’s so hard.”
Harsh, and arguably a bit unfair, Harold Varner III agreed.
“It’s huge,” Varner said of the lead gained by his first-wave comrades. “Obviously I see some of the golf yesterday and I only see a few shots. These guys are some of the best players in the world, if not the best, right now, seeing some of the shots they’ve hit. Super lucky with our wave. Sometimes it works like that, but if you don’t enjoy it, it doesn’t matter.
The playing field will finally be leveled on Sunday afternoon. For the first time this week, all players on the course will face the same golf course at around the same time. For those like Bubba Watson who survived Saturday’s carnage, there’s a real opportunity to make a (delayed) charge for moving day.
It will be warmer then, but fairer? It may already be too late.
“When you look at the standings thinking about the first wave of guys who didn’t even play today,” Watson said yesterday. “When you think about it, you’re just like, ‘Man, if I had just had a different start time, maybe I would have done better.'”