PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Welcome to Friday the 13th at The Players. It’s not just you. It was a weird day. You’ll see …
Defending champion Tim Clark sent 500 delicious gourmet cupcakes to the media center Thursday and 1,500 to the volunteers’ tent. Friday, he withdrew after playing ten holes because he aggravated an elbow injury. He left with a lot of new fans, though. Decades ago, we had Champagne Tony, as Tony Lema was known after he brought in champagne to celebrate with writers after a win. Now we’ve got Cupcake Timmy. Sorry to see you go, man.
Paul Goydos made a run up the Players leaderboard today. That was fantastic because we loved his underdog story two years ago when he lost the Players in a playoff with Sergio Garcia, and we loved his droll answers to clichÃ© questions.
“How’d you sleep last night?” a noted TV interviewer asked him. “On my side,” Goydos said.
We can’t get enough of that stuff.
In the SI Golf + Players preview issue, though, Goydos contributed a series of his thoughts about the tournament.
“I shouldn’t say this,” he said. “I’ll probably jinx myself, but I probably have made as many birdies at the par-3 17th as anyone. There are at least eight other holes out here that are scarier for me.”
Sure enough, when he came to the 17th Friday, Golf Channel put up a graphic about his exemplary scoring at the hole. Goydos then hit into the lake over the green and made a double bogey.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t they do that?” Goydos joked when told about the jinxing graphic. “Yeah, I already knew that. I’ve made a lot of birdies there. I have another double now. But you know, I think that’s what they call aversion to the norm. I made a good swing, but it was too good.”
Goydos finished with a 70 at fiver under par, five shots off the lead held by David Toms. He’s still in the hunt. Can we possibly get that lucky again?
The highlight of the day was when a spectator climbed down the bulkhead wall near the seventh tee, and, while using a driver from another player, retrieved Michael Bradley’s driver out from the pond. It had all the makings of an entry for “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” but the fan bravely made like Spiderman and was able to lift the lost driver to safety. He was pulled back up over the bulkhead by players and caddies.
What did we learn? That the new TaylorMade white drivers float. Who knew?
Was it worth the effort? Bradley made a triple-bogey 7 on the seventh hole. Then he drained a 40-foot birdie putt on the ninth to get close to the cut line.
Phil Mickelson played another game of Chutes & Ladders. After letting a good round slip away Thursday, Mickelson roared out of the blocks Friday morning. Starting on the back nine, he made three birdies and an eagle for a slick 31 and was making a move.
But then he fell apart and posted a 40 on the second nine. Mickelson finished at two under par, eight shots back of Toms. Unless Phil goes 66-64 on the weekend, it looks like this Players will be Tiger-less and Phil-less.
“I don’t know what to say,” a flummoxed Mickelson said. “I stopped hitting fairways. You always come out Saturday with hopes of going low. I’m going to have to get past this first. This is a day that I should be right up on top within striking distance. Now I’ve got to shoot in the low 60s to get back in it.”
You never expect big names to miss the cut, especially with warm but relatively calm conditions at the Stadium Course. But here’s a quick roll call of those who won’t be around for the weekend: Jim Furyk, Paul Casey, Ernie Els, Camilo Villegas, Rickie Fowler, Jhonny Vegas, Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh and Anthony Kim, to name a few.
The leaderboard is an interesting mix of recently minted stars and recycled stars.
Greg Chalmers, an Aussie who has resuscitated his career after a few bleak years, shot 65 with only 22 putts. He chipped in once (for eagle at the par-5 11th) and holed a putt from just off the green at the fifth.
“I usually roll the ball pretty nice,” he said. “Putting is an area of the game that I’m comfortable in.”
There’s Toms, whose only major championship was the 2001 PGA, suddenly playing well. There’s Steve Stricker two shots back and Davis Love III, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, three back. Old school, all.
Doral winner Nick Watney is one behind Toms; U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell, who missed three of his last four cuts, is two back along with Luke Donald, perhaps the hottest player in the world this year, and Lucas Glover, coming off last weekend’s win at the Wells Fargo Championship. Also in the mix are Hunter Mahan, Aaron Baddeley and J.B. Holmes.
Brian Gay had six birdies Friday and finished at 140, 4 under par. He might be playing the best golf of anyone in the field except for two holes. Thursday, he suffered a quadruple-bogey 8 at the 18th on his final hole. Friday, after climbing up to six under par, he double-bogeyed the par-3 eighth. He’s not out of it yet.
Els, through 35 holes, was even par. His final hole was one of the easiest par holes left — the par-5 9th. Ernie striped his drive down the fairway with a 3-wood. All he needed was a par to safely make the cut, but because Els is a Hall of Famer, he doesn’t think about making cuts. So Ernie went for the green.
His second shot came up short, drawing a bad lie in the front bunker. He got it out, but Els couldn’t get it to the green. Then he still faced a fluffy downhill lie in the rough. He didn’t hit a great chip. He had a four-foot putt for par. He missed.
The week began with Els being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. It ended for him Friday when he bogeyed his last hole to miss the cut.
In hindsight, it might have been a poor choice for Els to go for the green in two. He might even agree, that at best, it was a weird choice.
Well, it was Friday the 13th.