Connell Barrett, editor-at-large for GOLF Magazine, covered the afternoon action at the Players Championship today, and he'll be back Saturday at 2 p.m. Eastern. Gary Van Sickle, senior writer for Sports Illustrated, covered the morning action.
7PM Quittin' time! Thanks for reading, golf fans. We'll see you tomorrow: same blog time, same blog channel. Good night. 6:58PM Wow. When I bought my HDTV, they didn't warn me about Rich Lerner's forehead. It's huge. 6:53PM Poulter brushes in a short, slick birdie putt on no. 9, to shoot 68 and to nove to 9-under for the event. He's 2 behind leader Cejka. 6:49PM Chopra made bogey on no. 9, for a 65. He admitted in his post-round chat that he was aware of the course record of 63 being within reach. "I just [decelerated] on it, and I had a tight lie," he said of his short approach shot that found the bunker on 9. "A tough shot, and it was made more difficult by the score [I was aware of.]" 6:45PM It looks like El Nino's birdie on 17 kept him in this for the weekend. 6:42PM Wow. Looking at a great birdie chance on 18, Sergio 3-putts from about 7 feet. Bogey. Even par for the tournament. How do you say "Aye Caramba" in Spanish? (Oh wait...) 6:34PM Needing a birdie on his last hole (no. 9) to tie the course record of 63, Daniel Chunkra -- I mean Chopra -- dumps his short-iron approach into the bunker on the left. Why am I hearing Billy Joel's voice? ("You have to learn to pace yourself... PRESSURE!") 6:31PM Question to our fire-breathing panel. He's 7 strokes back. He's never played his best at Sawgrass, apart from his one TPC win. And he's putting like me after three cans of Hamm's. So... can Tiger make a triumphant charge this weekend? Tell me what you think. 6:26PM Sergio made a badly-needed birdie on 17, to go to 1-under. With the projected cut at even-par, you don't want to come to the brutal 18th needing a par to make the weekend. 6:21PM Tiger, in his post-round interview: "Just one of those days... I wanted to shoot 5-under today... [With a few ugly lies] you just gotta take your medicine out there." 6:17PM "I do like Sergio's snazzy orange shirt," says Sports Illustrated's Dick Friedman. "Looks like a Tennessee Vols shade of orange. He looks mahvelous! Maybe it's better to look good than to play good." 6:16PM He won't defend his title, but Sergio makes a nice swing on 17 for a birdie look. 6:12PM Tiger's 9-foot birdie putt on 18 slides by the left side. He'll tap in for a 69, at 4-under for the week. 6:11PM Farewell, course record? Daniel Chopra has a testy up-and-down on no. 8 to remain at 9-under on the day. 6:08PM From about 180 yards in the rough on 18, Tiger hits a low, handsy, three-quarter, no-flipping-way running hook out of the right rough and under a tree to (gulp!) about 7 feet. Birdie try. To borrow a phrase from Feherty, my flabber is thoroughly gasted. 6:02PM A superb attempt at a long par putt on no. 6 burns the right edge, and Poulter drops a shot, falling to 8-under. Still, it's only his second bogey of the week. 5:59PM On 18, Tiger, at 4-under, pulls driver and hits his patented "reverse draw" (starts right, goes further right) and finds the thick stuff on 18. His chances for a bogey on Sawgrass' hardest hole just skyrocketed. 5:55PM Tiger whistles his birdie putt on 17 about 5 feet past the hole. ("Worse than most, worse than most...") But he calmly drains the come-backer. On to the house of horrors that is 18. 5:53PM A developing situation: Daniel Chopra is now 9-under on his round, through 15 holes. He has a shot to tie or beat the course record (63) shared by Greg Norman ('94) and Fred Couples ('92). 5:49PM Eying the rear-center pin location, Woods -- likely hitting a pitching wedge, from 140 yards -- finds the right-center of the green. He'll have 15-18 feet for birdie. Phew! 5:47PM Leonard nearly walks the plank on 17, but his ball stays on the surface. A lovely image for Woods to absorb. Now, Tiger addresses the ball... 5:44PM Da-dump! Da-dump! Da-dump! ("Jaws" music.) Tiger makes his par on 16, and the Island Hell awaits. Great stat the TV guys just flashed: Tiger is 13-OVER par on the Island Hole for his career. It's his worst hole, statistically, at Sawgrass. 5:41PM He's dashing! He's clashing! He's Ian Poulter! The Brit's birdie on no. 4 moves him to 9-under. And he has another birdie look on no. 5. Crumbs! 5:39PM Indeed, Tiger chops out -- it's all he could do -- leaving his ball just short of the green's left side. He'll have a lengthy up-and-down for par. 5:35PM Yeesh. With 218 yards to the front edge on the par-5 16th, playing into the wind, Tiger pulls 3-iron and smothers it into the left rough. The ball went underground, into a deep, dark lie. I don't think even Tiger can do better than par. 5:30PM Poulter has 7 feet left for birdie on no. 4, to get it to 9-under, 2 behind of Cejka. 5:28PM Hopefully for Tiger's sake, he was averting his eyes when Immelman buried his tee shot at sea seconds ago on the Island Hole. 5:26PM T-dub (we're tight, me and Tiger) tugs his tee shot on 15 to the left, but he gets a member's bounce -- if Sawgrass had members -- and rebounds back into the first cut. No worries. Woods should be going for the watery par-5 16th green in two. 5:23PM Tiger's birdie putt on 15 slides in the left side of the cup, to take him to 4-under. The most exciting finishing holes in golf await. Hot dang, this is getting good! You have to think that Cejka's gonna come back to the field come Saturday. 5:21PM Hey, Stenson fans (I know you're out there.) Henrik taps in for birdie on 6 (his 15th hole) to join Poulter at 8-under, in a tie for second. 5:18PM Poulter saves his par on no. 2, to remain 8-under, 3 shots off the lead. Tiger stuck his 9-iron approach on 15 to about 12 feet. He'll have a birdie try. 5:14PM Poulter should save par on no. 2 (his 11th). He had to punch out from behind a tree, but he followed that with a wedge to 3-4 feet, below the hole, for par. 5:11PM Tiger drops his birdie putt on 14, to climb back to 3-under. He can thank his level, fluffy lie that he caught off the tee. He deserved par or bogey after his horrific drive. Lady luck... 5:09PM Me and my big mouth. Poulter is in a maximum security penitentiary on no. 2, his ball resting behind a tree well short of the green on the par-5. 5:05PM On no. 7, Byrd, at 6-under, splits the fairway. Also, if anyone is catching Cejka today, I think it's Poulter, who stands at 8-under with eight holes to play. He started on the back today, so he has the easier 9 holes to contend with. He's already escaped 17 and 18. 5:02PM Tiger finds a level lie right of the huge mounds off the 14th fairway, leaving him a decent angle toward the green with his second shot. He has 186 yards left. "Try to knock it down a little bit," his caddie Steve Williams says. Replies Woods, apparently worrying about a flier lie: "If it lands on the green, it's outta here." Woods makes pure contact and knocks it to the front of the green, about 15-20 feet under the hole. 4:55PM Playing with Tiger and Ernie, Leonard, at 4-under, splits the fairway on 14. Els, at 2-under, follows suit. Then Tiger at 2-under -- "Fore right!" he screams -- shoves his drive miles right of the fairway. It would have been a big miss even with a driver, but Woods appeared to be using a 3- or 5-wood. 4:52PM More Skins-related information shortly. On no.13, Tiger pulled his birdie putt to remain at 2-under. 4:47PM Hot off the presses! The silly season just became less silly. The 2009 Skins Game has been canceled, according to a release from IMG Media, a partner in putting on the event that dates back to 1983. The global economic crisis was cited as the reason. According to the release: "The Skins Game, a popular Thanksgiving weekend golf tradition for the past 26 years, will be postponed in 2009 but plans to resume play in 2010, event partners ESPN, IMG Media and the City of Indian Wells announced today.... '[G]iven the current economic climate, postponing the 2009 event was necessary,' said Barry Frank, Executive Vice President, IMG Media." 4:41PM Tiger carves a 7-iron to about 7 feet on the par-3 13th hole. He has a great, uphill look at birdie. 4:37PM Yet more proof that the End Times are upon us: Anthony Kim is currently in second-to-last place, at 11-over -- a mere 22 shots behind the world's 267th-ranked player. 4:31PM Tiger gives one back, leaving his par putt well short. Bogey. 4:29PM Tiger's sand shot chases well past the hole. He has about 25 feet for par. 4:27PMTiger update! He's chasing his fourth straight birdie, but he won't get it. Tiger flies his 104-yard approach on the par-4 12th into the pot bunker over the green. A huge mistake. Let's put his chances of getting up-and-down with little green to work with at 1-in-5. 4:25PM Two-putt bogey for Byrd, who drops to 7-under. 4:22PM Byrd faces a 21-foot par putt on no. 4 (his 13th hole). 4:19PMMysteriously, Byrd -- at 8-under and in second place -- channeled Baker-Finch on the par-4 4th, finding pine trees with his tee shot. His drive traveled 148 yards. "That won't help his driving stats," Frank Nobilo comments. Or his confidence. 4:15PM Poulter pulls his 6-foot birdie putt on 17. Par. 4:13PM With a deep, weedy lie, Tiger hits sort of a hack-chip to gimme range on 11. Birdie. Ho hum. 4:10PM Tiger, with 236 yards to the hole on the par-5 11th, cuts his second-shot approach (with a 5-wood) to the greenside rough. Little green to work with. Depending on the lie, he'll need his fairy-dust sprinkled short game to get up and down for birdie. Not that I'm betting against him. 4:06PM Poulter, pitching wedge to 6 feet on 17. He'll have a great look at birdie, to move to 8-under. 4:05PM Toms may soon join Poulter in a tie for third. He's putting for birdie on 10, from about 15 feet. 4:03PM Poulter brushes in a short birdie putt on 16 to get to 7-under. Now, for the palm-dampening walk to 17 tee... 4:01PM Phil put a hex on himself earlier this week. He went on and on about his hot putting, and how he loves the Sawgrass greens. Total putts today: 34. 3:56PM Byrd drains a long birdie putt on no. 2 (his 11th hole of the day) to pull within 3 of the lead. He's at 8-under. On 10, from about 15 feet, Tiger confidently drops a birdie putt dead-center, to get it to 2-under. Maybe Woods has found something with his putter. Like they used to say about Billy Casper, that ball would have tumbled in if the hole was only 2 inches wide. 3:52PM A kinder, gentler reader asks, "What happned to Watney today? He shot 68 yesterday and today he is 5-over par through 6. Is it wind? faster greens?"
I haven't seen any stats yet, but the course must be playing at least half a stroke harder. Also, last week I (shameless name drop!) interviewed Greg Norman, who pointed out how you can play well one day and shoot 68, then play better the next day and shoot 78. "That's just golf," Norman said. "Luck plays a part. It's a very quirky game." 3:47PM Stenson did indeed make bogey on 18, to finish at 5-under for the first two days. 3:44PM A fan of mine writes: "Pretty much sucks to have to wait 9-10 minutes between posts only to hear your lame attempts at humor. You suck. Do the job or get someone else to do it."
Hmmm. I asked my dad to refrain from posting on my blog performance, but what are you gonna do...? 3:43PM Cejka fun fact: He's currently ranked 267th in the world. When Craig Perks came out of nowhere to win the Players in 2002, he was ranked 203rd. We'll do some fact-checking, but I'd wager that Cejka would be the biggest underdog to ever win this tournament, in terms of world ranking. 3:41PM Henrik Stenson, at 6-under, gets greedy on 18, pulling his approach shot into the lake. Bogey beckons. 3:38PM Tiger then carves a half wedge off the side of a hill -- with an awkward, wide stance -- and chases the ball to 6 feet. He makes birdie to move to 1-under. 3:35PM Some quality reporting from the Golf Channel. Tiger approached the fan that he hit just off the 9th green. Fan: "How about you give me a golf lesson?" Tiger: "How about I give you a signed glove?" And he does. And they say Tiger's got no heart. 3:32PMWith 260 yards to the hole for his second on the par-5 9th, Woods pulls fairway wood. He tries hitting a draw, but hangs it out to the right and -- Donk!, as Faldo would say -- hits a fan, deflecting his ball back in the rough. Tiger will have a tough up and down for birdie. 3:28PM Moore follows with an iron to about 10 feet on the par-3 3rd. 3:25PMRyan Moore buries a looong eagle putt -- call it 45 feet -- on the par-5 second to vault up the leaderboard, to 5-under. 3:22PM Tiger sneaks his short par putt in on 8. Yikes, even his 3-footers look wobbly. 3:16PMByrd took a putter and cozied his third shot to tap-in range on 18. He'll finish at 7-under, 4 strokes back. 3:14PMOn 18, Byrd -- at 7-under -- left his iron approach short of the green. He'll have to get up and down for par, which feels like birdie on this brutal hole. Back to the par-3 8th: Tiger hung his tee shot out to the right, just off the collar. He'll be scrambling for par, to stay even. 3:11PMWe have a Justin Leonard sighting! Now 3-under through 8, Leonard -- playing with Tiger and Ernie -- hit a nice 4-wood to the center of the green on the loooong (239-yard) par-3 8th. 3:08PM An amazing stat just posted by the Golf Channel: Tiger has only made 6 putts of over 15 feet in his last 312 holes at the Players Championship. Wow. 3:04PM David Toms, at -6 for the event and 5 off the lead, splits the fairway on 7. Up ahead on the green on 7, Tiger misses his birdie putt of about 25 feet. Par for Tiger. 2:58PMCutline watch! Zach Johnson just rolled in a birdie to move to 1-under. The cutline is currently at even. 2:53PMI just spoke with mental-game expert Joe Parent, who did some work with Cejka earlier this year, on the practice green at Riviera. Says Parent, who has worked with Vijay Singh and David Toms, among other pros. "Alex was struggling with his putter. He thought the issue was technical. I watched him and realized it was an issue of confidence. He wasn't using a free-flowing motion. He was trying to steer the ball to the hole, instead of making a loose, easy stroke. He was focused on results, not execution. He had three top-15s in his next four rounds. Players of all levels -- from pros to 15 handicaps -- often think their problem is with the stroke. Much of the time, it's an issue of confidence."
Oh by the way: Cejka had 23 putts today and 29 yesterday. Nice work, Doc. Parent, by the way, wrote about the art of using the flatstick in his book "Zen Putting." 2:48PM Sports Illustrated Senior Editor Dick Friedman is psyched to see the new "Star Trek" movie. His take on the Players, Day 2:
"Unfortunately, (Captain) Kirk (Triplett) is not on this enterprise. We can beam up Scott(ie) Verplank, currently T9. (Adam) Scott(ie) may miss the cut. There’s even a Bones (Mackay). And Alex Cejka? Close enough to Chekov!" 2:39PMAnd bogey it he does, as his uphill 20-footer trickles short and right. Tiger is now 11 back. Eeenteresting.
2:30PMMuch more on leader Cejka in a bit, but it's never too soon to ask, "Will Tiger miss the cut?" The cut line is at even, and Woods will be resting on that knife edge if he bogeys 5. 2:28PMAfter a poor drive on the par-4 5th forced him to lay up, Tiger is poised to make bogey and drop to even-par -- he faces a 20-25-footer to salvage a par. 2:24PMDid you see Sergio slam his club on the turf on 15 tee yesterday, after a poor drive? Then, he stalked off the tee box and slammed his driver head on what appeared to be a sprinkler head. CLANK! Every bit of his body language suggests misery, frustration, and hopeless. Old nickname: El Nino. New nickname: Eeyore? 2:21PMSergio faces a testy putt on no. 3 to save bogey. "He's in a downward spiral," Faldo says, referring to Garcia's mental state. 2:17PM A bad omen for the rest of the players: Tiger was happy with his ball-striking yesterday. Tiger's rarelyhappy. He's striping it great. It sounds like he's "close," save for his putter -- but he remains 10 shots behind Cejka. 2:14PM Tiger's putter remains cloaked in cobwebs -- he leaves an uphill 20-footer for birdie on no. 4 an inch short, to remain 1-under for the tournament. 2:10PMI'll get to the live action shortly, but some talking points: What's wrong with Tiger's putter? Where are all the big names on the leaderboard (excluding The Duck)? What's more exciting: the fifth major (the Players) or the fourth major (the PGA). And... who the heck is Jeff Klauk? Questions, questions... 2:06PMSo, who's got Alex Cejka fever? I do!
Welcome to the Golf.com Players Championship Day-2 Blog, Part Deux. Great work, Gary. I'll take y'all to the end of the day. Questions? Comments? Fire at will, and we'll get this tee party started.