Players 2016: What Happened to the Jason Day vs. Rory McIlroy Shootout?

May 14, 2016

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA.—Welcome to nine-and-a-half thoughts from Saturday at the Players…

1.) The Fumble. After two days of glorious scoring in which the Stadium Course record of 63 was tied twice and should’ve fallen a couple of times, the PGA Tour failed to listen to my advice about low scores in big events leading to great winners. Instead, they cranked up the Sub-Air machines (to suck the moisture out of the greens), firmed them up despite Friday afternoon’s rain and placed the pins on knobs and ski slopes. Hilarity ensued. Also, it took all day. Memo to the Tour: You guys say you believe in pace of play. Setting the pins so that players don’t have a gimmie even for their third putt slows the pace of play to a crawl. This is called ‘a disconnect.’ You’re welcome.

2.) Deflate-gate. Sergio Garcia had a five-putt. Invincible leader Jason Day had a four-putt. Blame the cup locations, not the putters. This is a TV show and on a day when you should have had a glamorous shootout between No. 1 Day and No. 3 Rory McIlroy and maybe a wildcard like Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, you had an endless show of players marking their balls after short putts. You turned good TV into bad TV. But you can still save Sunday’s show!

3.) Fun With Quotes. Billy Horschel on Saturday’s putting results: “You guys know me, I’d give you a good quote if I had one in me and make myself look like a fool in front of the world and get bashed again on Twitter. But it was a fair test of golf today…It felt like I was putting on dance floors out there. Augusta is the quickest greens we play all year and, I’m sorry, Sawgrass made those greens look like 8s on the Stimpmeter.”

4.) Danger Island. You know you’ve ruined your course setup when the most exciting moment of the six-hour round was when Kevin Chappell hit a shot dangerously close to the water at the 18th hole. Chappell had to precariously balance his feet on the bulkhead to try to make a swing and advance the ball to the green. He did, but he still made a double bogey. That was for 70, a darned good score on this day of hellacious scoring.

5.) Fun With Quotes. Kevin Chappell, asked to describe the greens: “Dead. Balding.” Ha-ha. Well, it was a lot funnier when he said it.

6.) Fun With Quotes, The Sequel. Even Matsuyama was amusing and you don’t have any idea how difficult that is via an interpreter. Hideki had what was maybe the most remarkable round of the day (not counting Martin Kaymer’s 76 with a 9 at the 14th hole). Matsuyama began the front and back nines with three straight birdies and shot 67 to put himself into a tie for second place. Asked what he liked about this course, Matsuyama smiled several times during his answer and in one pause, almost giggled. “Let’s see, what do I like about this course?” the interpreter said. “Oh, that’s a tough question.” He paused to recreate the humor, then delivered the punchline: “I guess it’s comforting watching everybody else struggle, too.”

7.) The Payback Factor. One of Friday’s great moments was watching Will Wilcox celebrate a hole-in-one at the 17th. Wilcox sent beer to the media center and is now a revered god-like figure. Saturday, he was first off on the back nine and dunked his shot at 17 into the water, woefully short of the green, and made a double bogey. The rest of the day went downhill and he shot 82. But if anybody asks how he did at 17, he can still hold his head high and say, “I played it even par the last two days.”

8.) Two things you may not know. One, the purse here is so big that finishing second is worth $1.08 million. Two, the hunk of crystal handed to the winner is colorlessly known as the Players Championship Trophy. How’d they think that one up? The Claret Jug, it’s not. Feel free to start a Name the Trophy contest. I’ll go first: The Billy Crystal. (I just need to find a Billy to name it after. Andrade? Kratzert? Baroo? Yesss!)

9.) Fun With Quotes, The Final Battle. From Russell Knox: “I think everyone knows that it got out of hand slightly. The greens were the fastest I’ve ever putted on. It was so hard, I looked up on the board and saw Ken Duke shot 65, and was like, What? That’s the best round of golf ever, probably.”

9.5) Saturday’s scoring average. It was nearly five strokes higher than Thursday or Friday. Sunday’s favorite: I’ll go out on a limb and say the trauma center.