PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Teflon. Linoleum. Ice. A dance floor. Those were just some of the words used when players were asked about TPC Sawgrass’ greens during Saturday’s third round of the Players. Ernie Els put it another way. “You’re going to see some swears,” he said. To that end, one player in a text message did use a certain four-letter synonym for poop. After Jason Day set the 36-hole scoring record by reaching 15 under on a soft and pristine Stadium Course, the birdies dried up in Saturday’s hot sun and breezy conditions. The only moving done was mostly backwards. Rory McIlroy said it felt like a U.S. Open, Kevin Chappell called the greens dead and bald, and Keegan Bradley spoke for some who claimed the speeds of the putting surfaces bordered on the edge of out of control. The result: Some eye-popping numbers and not much fun for anyone, unless you’re a fan of car crashes. Over the first two days, there were 122 combined three-putts among the 144 players in the field. On Saturday there were 149 three-putts among the 76 players who made the cut, and 15 of those players had at least 34 putts for their round including McIlroy, who had 37. Sixty players had at least one double bogey or worse, with the field making a total of 86 double bogeys or higher and 38 players posting nine-hole totals of 40 or higher. The third-round scoring average was a whopping 75.59, more than three strokes over par and more than four strokes higher than that of each of the first two days, and seven players failed to break 80. Only six players broke par including Ken Duke, who somehow shot 65 in what one player called easily the round of the year.
Did the PGA Tour, trying to address critics who felt conditions during the first two rounds were too easy for an event of this caliber, over-correct? Perhaps, although that wasn’t the intention. “What happened today was just kind of a perfect storm with the weather,” said Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules. “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.” The result was putt after putt getting away from the players. Sergio Garcia had a five-putt on the fifth hole. Actually, a six-putt if you include his attempt from the fringe.
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“It got to the point where when you’re grounding your putter, you can’t square it up because the surfaces are so shiny and so slippery,” McIlroy said after posting a 75. “To have such a drastic speed change in the greens from when we played [Friday] to today, I just found I had a really difficult time to adjust to them. “That was borderline unfair on a few holes,” McIlroy continued. “A few pin positions were on crowns, and you dribble a putt by, all of a sudden it’s six feet by.” The sixth and 15th holes were the most treacherous with 14 three-putts on each, tied for most on the course. It wasn’t just the weather drying out and speeding up the greens, either. Nearly every hole location was five paces or less from the edge of the green. The only one that wasn’t was the 18th. It was six paces from the edge. Officials also double cut, double-rolled and single-rolled the greens between the second and third rounds. “The ball almost seems to glide on these greens without really rolling,” said Justin Rose, who had three double bogeys on the back nine alone and shot 42 in that stretch en route to a 78. “I was really surprised to see it change so quick.” Even those who played well struggled to wrap their head around what they were experiencing. Jason Day, who despite two double bogeys shot 73 and leads by four going into the final round, said the greens were “crazy” and the front nine “borderline.”
What does it mean for Sunday’s final round? Officials said they don’t plan to do anything more to the greens. “It’ll be interesting to see where they go now,” Rose said of the putting surfaces, which will be ripped up and replaced beginning on Monday. “Do they let them go and make it tough, tough, tough, or do they back it up and have a little more exciting Sunday where you can make some birdies and it’s a little more fun?”