Youth gives way at Players
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Hot blasts of wind on a diabolical course made The Players Championship tough enough to turn someone's hair gray. Not that the leaders needed any help with that Friday.
Kenny Perry, who first showed up at Sawgrass 20 years ago, kept his wits and his patience in 35 mph gusts and made only one bogey in a solid round of 2-under 70 that gave him a one-shot lead going into the weekend.
He will be paired with Bernhard Langer, who already has won twice this year - on the Champions Tour.
The two-time Masters champion and former Ryder Cup captain thought about withdrawing Thursday morning when he felt pain in his lower back, which caused his groin and left knee to ache, along with his left shoulder. All those creaking joints, and the 50-year-old Langer still managed to produce a 67 and entertain hopes of winning against kids who weren't even born when he won his first Masters.
Paul Goydos, 43, also was one shot behind, although he didn't attribute his fine play to experience.
``I'm more journeyman than veteran,'' he said after a 71.
Crashing the party - naptime might be more apropos - was Sergio Garcia, the 28-year-old Spaniard whose driving was as spectacular as his putting was atrocious. Garcia hit all 14 fairways, missed only three greens and took 33 putts on his way to a 73.
What cost him the 36-hole lead was a double bogey on the island-green 17th without ever going into the water.
Garcia's tee shot went over the back of the green and rolled down the artificial turf path, leaving him a chip over a corner of the water. His shot came out hot, rolled off the green and only a slight rise in the first cut of rough kept it dry. He chipped weakly and missed another putt, then missed a 7-foot birdie putt on the last.
``I probably deserved a little bit more than what I got,'' Garcia said.
Pardon the rest of these guys if they feel as if they're playing on borrowed time.
Perry, 47, went to a Bible study Wednesday night at the home of Fred Funk, who in 2005 at age 48 became the oldest winner of The Players Championship. Snooping around the house, Perry found the crystal trophy and rubbed his hands on it.
``That guy inspired me,'' said Perry, who was at 6-under 138.
His scorecard doesn't reflect anything spectacular - birdies on a pair of the par 5s, a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 1 and a hybrid that rolled into a tough lie on the bunker at the downwind, par-3 eighth, leading to his only bogey.
Nerves were tough to control, however, in steady 20 mph that gusted and swirled through the pines and made every shot a challenge even on the few holes that have no water hazards.
``It was the kind of day where you could shoot a big number in a hurry,'' Perry said. ``You're at the mercy of the wind. It was hard to ever feel comfortable on any tee shot.''
Perhaps the greatest testament to the conditions came from 22-year-old Anthony Kim.
He won last week at the Wachovia Championship by five strokes with a record score (272). Kim bogeyed the final hole for a 70, and said it was the best he struck the ball in six rounds of tournament golf.
Kim was at 4-under 140 and will get another round with Boo Weekley, who shot 71 and was at 141. Weekley brought some levity on an otherwise grim day at No. 8, when they stooped to inspect a turtle. Kim was lightly touching the shell when Weekley screamed out, making Kim nearly jump out of his shoes.
``I think that's why we probably both missed those 5-footers on that hole,'' Kim said.
Otherwise, it was a grind.
Rich Beem was only five shots out of the lead with four holes when he took double bogey on the 15th from the trees, hit into the water on the par-5 16th and made bogey, found the water on the island-green 17th for double bogey, then pumped two tee shots into the water on the 18th to finish with a quadruple bogey. He wound up with an 80 and missed the cut by five shots.
Padraig Harrington bogeyed six of his final seven holes for a 78 and also left early. The cut was at 3-over 147.
The biggest surprise was Langer, who first played The Players Championship in 1984 when Garcia was barely out of diapers. He moved over to the Champions Tour this year, and already has won twice against the old guys.
Langer is one of the great thinkers, though, and the Stadium Course is all about strategy. Even so, few people expected anything that resembled a charge in such blustery conditions, let alone from a 50-year-old with a back injury.
But he fired a 3-wood into 8 feet for eagle on No. 2, followed that up with birdies on the fourth and fifth holes, took the outright lead with a 15-foot birdie on the eighth and was poised to shoot 30 on the front until dumping a wedge into the bunker left of the green on the par-5 ninth, making bogey for the second straight day.
``I felt like throwing up,'' Langer said. ``When you make 6 on a hole when you're 80 yards away, feels worse than when you're playing bad. I had a long walk from there to (No.) 10 and had a little bit of a talk.''
But he got one of the loudest roars on the scariest hole. His tee shot barely cleared the wooden planks guarding the 17th green, and from there he used his long-handle putter to roll in a 60-foot birdie.
When it all ended, 15 players remained under par, a group that included Fred Couples at 2-under 142, with defending champion Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els at 143.
``Basically, right now we're still just pace cars,'' Goydos said. ``We're going to wait and see what happens on the weekend when the racing starts. But it's a good place to start the weekend off.
``If nothing else, you get to sleep in.''
Considering the age of some of these guys, they could probably use it.
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