PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA (AP) — Welcome to the March Players, where the cold, wet, and rain have already worn down the field — and the 36-hole cut is still at least a day away.
The PGA Tour’s signature event was moved from May to March in 2019, and this week’s slog was always on the schedule. North Florida in March can be picture-perfect, as it has been for the majority of the time since The Players returned to the season, or it can look like Friday’s radar, which was saturated in foreboding blobs of yellow and red as a monster storm crept over TPC Sawgrass.
But, as horrible as the first two days have been, players have been dreading Saturday’s prediction all week. As a cold front moves across the area, the Tour’s own forecast predicts a “high impact weather day.” From 9 a.m. until 11 a.m., there is a 100 percent chance of storms.
Then things start to become interesting.
Winds will flip out of the northeast at 20-30 mph behind the front, with gusts up to 35 mph. A northeast wind would make any course significantly more difficult, but a northeast wind at TPC Sawgrass produces a totally new course.
When the Tour relocated The Players to May in 2007, the northeast winds and powerful cold fronts were no longer a concern. A generation of Tour players has never stood on the famed 17th tee in the face of a bitterly cold 30 mph wind. On Saturday, that appears to be changing.”
Billy Horschel, who won his first Players Championship in 2013, remarked, “We’ve been lucky my entire career playing it into an east to south wind, so it’s either off the right or helping.” “When the wind is blowing that fiercely, the hole changes.”
There are a few players in this week’s field who have dealt with similar situations before. In 2006, Henrik Stenson competed in his first Players and finished third in identical chilly and wet circumstances.
“I’ve played it a lot of times in some very harsh, brutal conditions, and 17 is probably one of the tee shots you don’t want to hit if it’s really windy and cold,” Stenson said. “It may be a difficult hole in relatively easy conditions, but it’s not an appealing shot if you’re standing there hitting a 7-iron, which is generally a pitching wedge.”
“Because of the weather and gusting gusts, you have to keep it low, and you can’t go long or short at the same time.”
Horschel is based at TPC Sawgrass and lives in Ponte Vedra Beach. Despite the fact that he has never played the 17th hole facing a north or northeast wind at The Players, he has put himself to the test during practice rounds throughout the year.
“When there was a 10 to 15 mph north wind, we’d place a little hitting mat up on the hill beyond the tee.” We were going to hit 3-irons into that green. He remarked, “It was something.”
When the wind shifted to the north for the final round, the 2019 Players gave us a glimpse of what might be in store on Saturday afternoon at No. 17. The score average at No. 17 increased to 3.26, making it the second toughest hole of the day, only behind the 18th. In 2019, the scoring average for Round 3 was 2.9, and the 17th hole was the 13th most difficult.
The island’s particular issue is substantially exacerbated by a strong northeast wind. The obvious modification is to hit more club off the tee, but the actual execution of the shot is significantly more subtle.
“You have to do things the right way.” “Let’s say I’m hitting a 7-iron and it’s playing 165 to 170 yards, and I flight it a little bit and the wind slows down; I’m over the green,” Horschel explained. “There’s a little bit of luck involved.”
Davis Love III can vouch for it. In his 29 starts at the circuit’s biggest event, the two-time Players champion has experienced every possible breeze, but it’s that northeast option that has always made things tenfold more difficult.
“With my tee shot, I’ve practically struck the slope behind the green.” It’s gusty and you’re playing 165, and you have to keep it down because if you don’t get the wind, the ball will go up when it hits the flag,” Love joked. “Instead of being a frightening shot, it’s a warning of impending tragedy.”
Many of the older players have nightmares about hitting 5-irons into the 17th green. Because of improved equipment and superior players, that is unlikely to happen at The Players on Saturday.
However, most think that a 7-iron into the 140-yard hole isn’t out of the question if the prediction holds true.
“From a pitching wedge to a 7-iron, you go from a pitching wedge to a 7-iron.” It’s not like playing 200 yards from 140 yards. “You’re trying to keep it from blowing away,” Love explained. “It’s a little bit of a trick shot.” We’re quite excellent at hitting trick shots, but they don’t always work out.”
Saturday’s cold front promises to be genuinely chilling for a generation of golfers who regard the 17th as nothing more than a pitching-wedge hole.