Planet Golf — 10 May 2012 by Bob Sherwin

What I want to say is this, no, wait. What I want to say is. Wait. Stop. Start again. What I want to say…what I want to say…what I want to say…pull the trigger, Bob. What I want to say is. Stop. Back off. OK. I’m ready. Start again. This is for real. I’m really going to say it. What I want to say is…what I want to say issss, what the heck is with you Kevin Na? Hit the damn ball already.

What if everything we did, from writing to eating to driving to swinging, we did with a waggle as severe as Kevin Na, whose tortured inner mind games played out in front of the golf world Saturday in the third round of The Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass course? We’d never get anything done. We’d be paralyzed to move, act or talk.

Yet even with all his peculiar mannerisms, his yips and irritating waggles, the 28-year-old Na delivered enough superb shots to take a one-stroke lead in the ‘fifth major.’ He sits at 12-under 204. Matt Kuchar is at 11-under 205 while Rickie Fowler, a first-time PGA winner a week ago, is third at 9-under 207. Six other players are within six shots heading into Sunday’s final.

It’s apparent that Na can’t help himself. He doesn’t want to be slow. He doesn’t want to take 30 or 40 seconds of practice swings and gyrations before he hits a shot, but he can’t help himself. He can’t seem to get into any comfortable rhythm.

“I know it’s frustrating,” Na said afterward. “It’s frustrating for me. I want to pull the trigger. … It’s getting better little by little. Hopefully, it will go away by the end of the year.

“I’m trying to get comfortable with my waggles. It’s usually a little waggle, half waggle, little waggle, half waggle, and boom, supposed to pull the trigger. But if it doesn’t work, I’ve got to go in pairs,” Na said. “So it’ll go four; and if it doesn’t work, it’ll go six; and after that, just – there’s a lot going on in my head.”

He said he has been working on a swing change and that has caused a stutter when he addresses the ball. It’s painful to watch.

It must be a burden for his playing partners, who want to stay in their own (faster) rhythm. PGA officials are aware of his pokey-ness. He was put on the clock on his second shot on the 16th hole. An official informed him of his slow play, he appealed then lost the appeal. One more bad time and he would have become the first player in 20 years to be given a fine.

The thing is, even after all his waggles, his contortions and his official warning, when he finally hits the ball he’s on the money. He doesn’t seem bothered by his own deliberations. On the second shot on the 18th, with the whole focus on his wag-time, he went through his anguished routine then hit a 170-yard approach to within 15 feet of the pin. He made the birdie putt that provided the one-stroke difference.

This is the second time that Na, who joined the Tour in 2001, has held a 54-hole lead. He won once – his only Tour victory – at the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Na and Kuchar are the only players who have the opportunity to post four rounds in the 60s at The Players. In seven previous starts at the tournament, Na has only one round in the 60s.

Only six other players in tournament history have posted four rounds in the 60s: Al Geiberger, the 1975 winner, J.C. Snead, second in 1976, Greg Norman, the 1994 winner, Fuzzy Zoeller, second in 1994, Jeff Maggert, third in 1994, and Steve Elkington, the 1997 winner.

Kuchar, whose best finish here was T13 in 2009, is one of 14 players tied for most top-10 finishes on Tour in 2012 with four in 10 starts.

Fowler, who got his first Tour win last week at the Wells Fargo Championship, is attempting to become the first player to win back-to-back weeks since Tiger Woods won the Buick Open and the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in 2009. He also would be the youngest ever at 23 years, 4 months, 30 days.

Notes:

    • Na was one of three players (Ben Curtis and Carl Pettersson) that were bogey-free in the third round.
    • Tiger Woods failed to put on any kind of charge, finishing with a even-par 72 and is tied for 34th. One reason for his fade is the fact that he’s 2-for-31 in putts longer than 10 feet.
    • The third-round leader/co-leader has won The Players 16 of 38 times, but not since 2006.
    • This season, just eight of 19 54-hole leaders have gone on to win.
    • International players have won seven of the last 10 titles but the top five on the scoreboard are all Americans. Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas is the highest placed international player in a tie for sixth, six behind Na.
    • The Official World Golf Rankings could change again after the tournament. If Luke Donald finishes in solo fourth place (currently tied for 27th at 3-under) he would go back to No. 1 ahead of Rory McIIroy, who missed the cut. Lee Westwood, tied for 43rd at 1-under, would move to No. 1 if he somehow won – and Donald does not finish solo second.
    • Paul Azinger (1987) is the only player to birdie the 17 hole in all four rounds of a single Players Championship. Through three rounds, Johnson Wagner is the only player to birdie the hole the first three days.

 

 

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 46th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur the 2015 U.S. Open and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. Despite (or perhaps because) of his 14 handicap, he won the 'Super Senior'' (65 and older) championship in 2017. He has a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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