Thomas, Watson author bogey-free TPC rounds

Thomas, Watson author bogey-free TPC rounds

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — In what already was the toughest pre-cut round at the Players Championship in 15 years, Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson managed to play bogey-free Saturday in ferocious wind on a day of far more spills than thrills.

The rain finally cleared out and TPC Sawgrass got even more terrifying with gusts that approached 40 mph on a Stadium Course that can be punishing even in calm conditions.

Where that leaves Thomas (69) and Watson (68) won’t be determined until Sunday when the second round is completed. The rain-plagued tournament is so far behind that 27 players have yet to start the second round.

Thomas and Watson shared the clubhouse lead at 3-under 141. They left in a tie for 15th, and six of the players ahead of them had not finished a single hole.

Kevin Kisner reached 6 under in his second round until missing a short par putt on No. 4 and going from rough to water for a double bogey on the next hole. He shot 74 and was at 2-under 142. Dustin Johnson birdied his final hole for a 73 and was at 142, with two double bogeys on the par 5s over 36 holes.

The course was so saturated by rain that it took 54 hours, 16 minutes from Adam Schenk hitting the opening tee shot Thursday morning to Brendan Steele holing out early Saturday afternoon to complete the first round.

Tom Hoge goes into Sunday with his name atop the leaderboard. He still has played only 18 holes. He opened with a 6-under 66 on Thursday and was tied with Tommy Fleetwood, who was even par through three holes when play was suspended.

Those who spent more than six hours on the course Saturday held on for dear life, especially when they came to the notorious island green on the par-3 17th.

Over two days, only four players hit into the water. On Saturday when play resumed, the first four players couldn’t find the green. Scottie Scheffler had the wind die and went long into the water. Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka caught a gust and came up short, as did Collin Morikawa in the group behind them.

By the end of the day, 29 balls had gone into the water.

The average score for the second round when play was suspended was 75.37, and it was certain to go higher Sunday morning. The average was 75.41 for the opening round in 2007, the first year the Players was in May. The highest ever for the opening two rounds was 76.19 in 2000 when it was in March.

Scoring tends to get lower after the cut. The highest average score for any round was 76.51 in the third round of 2005.

“Insane,” Thomas said to describe the challenge.

Keegan Bradley (71) spoke of hitting a 9-iron from 96 yards on the 12th hole dead into the wind, and the same club from 206 yards with the wind at his back on the par-5 16th.

The forecast was for temperatures in the upper 30s when play was to resume Sunday morning and wind not quite as fierce but no less challenging.

Thomas thought he was going to end up on the good end of the draw when they started out Friday in soft, still conditions in the rain. Returning to 30 mph wind Saturday morning to finish the round and then facing 18 holes of that in the afternoon? Not so much.

“There’s always one person who plays good on the bad side of the draw,” Thomas said. “I kept saying, ‘Be that guy.’ I’m very proud of myself today.”

So many others went the wrong direction.

Schauffele was 4 under for his opening round, 2 shots out of the lead, when he hit into the water on the 17th and did well to salvage a bogey.

But on the 18th hole — playing so long into the wind that some players needed fairway metal to reach the par-4 in two shots — Schauffele drew such a bad lie in the rough that he advanced it only about 15 yards. From there, he hit into the water. After a drop, his pitch had so much spin into the wind that it rolled back some 75 feet back into the fairway.

He finished bogey-quadruple bogey for a 73, and then shot 78 in the second round.

Koepka was 3 under when he returned and was just left of the par-5 16th in two. It took him four shots to get down. He put his tee shot in the water on the 17th for double bogey and shot 72. He followed that with an 81, matching his highest score on the PGA Tour.

Asked to describe the 17th, Koepka said, “It’s luck.”

He hit an 8-iron from 205 yards on the 16th hole in the morning. He estimates his 8-iron on the 17th going the other direction went 105 yards in the air, and then some 20 feet to the bottom of the pond.

Tour officials tried to prepare with easier pins for the second round, slightly raising the cut of the greens the last two days, not rolling them since Friday.

“It’s brutal, man,” Kisner said. “It’s pure luck and somewhat loss of integrity of the tournament in my opinion. We’ve got 36 more holes to figure out who’s playing the best.”

The second round was to resume at 8:15 a.m. That will be followed by the third round, which would not end until Monday morning. The tournament still was likely to finish Monday evening.

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