PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., May 11 — Charley Hoffman, the happy-go-lucky fellow from San Diego with the long, blond tresses spilling out of his cap, got off to the kind of start at The Players on Thursday that must have had fans wondering how Jeff Spicolihad gotten into the tournament.
Hoffman was assigned to start on the back nine with Tim Herron and Kirk Triplett. He hit his opening tee shot on the 424-yard, dogleg-left, par-4 10th into the trees on the left. The ball dropped into the long, deep bunker left of the fairway, where it plugged. Trying to do the right thing and pitch back to the fairway, Hoffman instead bladed a pitching wedge over it and into a palmetto bush.
"There were probably 25 people there," he said Friday after shooting a three-under-par 69 Friday to get back to even par for the tournament. "I guess somebody could have picked it up. Obviously it took time to get over there. No one saw anything."
After a fruitless search for his Titleist, Hoffman went back to the bunker and took a drop, with a one-stroke penalty, only to watch his ball plug in the sand again. Hitting 6-iron this time, he shot his ball out of the trap, but the orb hit a tree and ricocheted 50 yards left, "almost into a hazard I'd never even seen before."
Hitting five but still without a clear path to the green, he chunked a wedge halfway there. Needing to hook his ball around the foliage, Hoffman hit his sixth shot, also a wedge, into the front-right bunker where, of course, it plugged. He blasted out to 25 feet and two-putted for a quintuple-bogey 9.
"I don't know if you'll think this is funny," his caddie Miguel Rivera said on the way to the next tee, "but I ran out of space on the scorecard. ShotLink only gives us eight squares."
Hoffman laughed, then said to Herron, who'd made double-bogey, and Triplett, who'd made par, "I think I had a 9. You can audit me if you want."
"I was happy I didn't make a 10," he said Friday.
The mood was light as Hoffman addressed a small gathering of press because, improbably, he'd not only made the cut at 75-69, he'd worked his way back into contention. Even after hitting his drive off the pilings on 18 and making a bogey, he was only five strokes behind first-round co-leaders Phil Mickelson and Rory Sabbatini after going five-under-par over his last 35 holes.
"I'd be right in it [without the 9]," Hoffman said, "and I still think I'm going to be right in it. Obviously you can't take back what happened. I wouldn't have done anything different. … The best part is it took probably 25, 30 minutes [to play the 10th hole Thursday], and then we had to wait on the next tee."
On the other hand, the best part might have been the fact that Hoffman missed a three-footer for birdie on 11.