PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The red-carpet treatment is understandable, given that this is PGA Tour headquarters, warm and fuzzy all around. The Players Championship offers a big purse, plenty of amenities, along with the never-ending debate about where the tournament ranks in golf’s hierarchy.
This year, tournament officials even rolled out a benign golf course, with receptive greens and generous pin locations and all manner of scoring opportunities.
And then conditions turned nasty — or at least that is the prevailing conspiracy theory.
Overnight, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass turned from benign to beast, the greens causing headaches and heartache along the way.
“It’s as extreme as you could have this set of greens today,” said Adam Scott. “They are as quick as they could possibly be to be playable here.”
Even tournament leader Jason Day was impacted, although not enough to put a big dent in his advantage.
The No. 1-ranked player in the world, Day set a 36-hole scoring record, shooting 129, 15 under par. He didn’t make a bogey through 36 holes but then made two double-bogeys in three holes on the front nine Saturday afternoon, with a four-putt and a three-putt.
“I want to say this was the toughest day I’ve ever had to play in my life,” said Day, who managed to maintain a four-shot lead through 54 holes.
But he made just three birdies in a round of 1-over-par 73. Hideki Matsuyama shot 67 and Ken Duke had a 65 that included a front-nine 30 to tie Alex Cejka for second, four strokes back.
So scoring was not impossible. But the number of three-putts, double-bogeys or worse and high scores suggest something was amiss. Saturday’s scoring average was 75.59, up from 71.06 for the first two rounds.
“They must have rolled them more than normal,” Scott said, referring to a machine used to treat the greens. “You can cut greens and get them smooth, but rolling them makes them fast, and they must have rolled them more than any other day.
“Couple more [rolls] tonight and one more in the morning and we will be ice skating tomorrow.”
Not so, said the PGA Tour.
“We have done the same thing all week,” said Mark Russell, the tour’s vice president of rules and competition. “We have been double-cutting these greens and double-rolling them and trying to get them firmed up.
“And what happened today was just kind of a perfect storm with the weather. We weren’t expecting a 20 mile-an-hour wind all day, and the humidity 30 percent, not a cloud in the sky. And they just, you know, sped up on us.”
No arguments there, Mark.