PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Jordan Spieth figured he would be the latest to pay the price at the TPC Sawgrass on a day of big numbers. Instead, he got a break he never imagined Friday at The Players Championship.
Not everyone so lucky, least of all Max McGreevy, who needed a birdie on the final hole just to break 90.
Spieth was just trying to avoid missing the cut. He had birdied his opening two holes and was tied for fourth, but he reached his last hole at the par-5 ninth, he was 5-over par for his round and in serious danger of missing the cut.
When his drive was in the air, he was certain of that. The ball was slicing so far to right it was headed for the cart path, and then water that shouldn’t even be in play.
And then it was in the fairway. That ball bounced off the leg of a fan and went away from the water and to short grass.
“Needing to probably birdie to make the cut, I can’t really birdie having to drop it over in the right rough over there and hitting my third,” Spieth said. “It would have been a one-in-a-million make. Instead, I ended up making a 3.”
What are the odds?! @JordanSpieth’s tee shot was heading into the water before his ball hit a fan and ricocheted back in the fairway.
It likely would have made the difference in Spieth making the cut @THEPLAYERSChamp. https://t.co/W3dqAnl30I pic.twitter.com/IRiHzRS30N
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 10, 2023
He ripped a 3-wood from 277 yards to the right collar of the green, and then chipped in for an eagle to limit the damage to a 75 and assure a spot in the middle of the pack going into the weekend.
“I got an extremely lucky break on 9 or I wouldn’t be playing the weekend,” said Spieth, who was at even-par 144. “Trying to get that guy’s information and see literally whatever he wants this weekend. Because everything from here on out is because it hit him.”
Walk-off eagle for @JordanSpieth 🔥
He’s finished comfortably inside the cutline at even par @THEPLAYERSChamp. pic.twitter.com/KdIaT2f44A
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 10, 2023
Even some of the good rounds featured plenty of trouble.
Viktor Hovland finished his opening round Thursday with four birdies on his last five holes. He started Friday with four birdies on his opening seven holes. He was tied for the lead, 5 under for the day through 11 holes.
He wound up with a ho-hum score — 71 — that was anything but a ho-hum round.
Hovland nearly chipped it from the back of the green into the water at the front on his way to a double bogey on No. 4. He took bogey from a fairway bunker on the next hole. Hovland three-putted for bogey on the eighth.
He still was in reasonable shape, but not as good as he thought he would be, and not as good as he felt he played. Such is the nature of the Players Stadium Course.
“Obviously in a good spot, but pretty disappointed I didn’t finish it off today,” Hovland said. “Because I played some really, really good golf.”
There also was some really bad golf.
McGreevy opened with a 69 on Thursday. He was 20 shots worse on Friday, when he tied the Players Championship record at the TPC Sawgrass. He made double bogey on No. 4, followed with a triple bogey on No. 5, ran into short-game issues for a double bogey on No. 6 and left one in the bunker on the par-3 eighth on his way to another double bogey.
The good news? He chipped to a foot for birdie on the closing hole to break 90. He tied the record for worst score set by Michael Campbell in the first round in 2003.
Lucas Herbert of Australia already had quite the adventure in the opening round when he shot 82. He followed that with an 85 — he also made birdie on his last hole. His round included an 8 on the par-3 17th when he hit one tee shot and another long, and this being an island green, both had the same fate.
He also had a 9 on the fourth hole by hitting three balls into the water — one from the rough, two from the drop area.
For 36 holes, his card contained scores of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.
Such is the nature of Sawgrass, which keeps everyone on their toes.
Jason Day, who has quietly worked his way back into the top 50 in the world, played alongside Herbert. The other member of the group was Aaron Wise, who on Thursday made a 10 on the 18th hole by hitting three tee shots into the water.
Day felt badly for both of them, but tried to keep his focus. For the most part it worked. And then there was No. 7, where he was in the middle of the fairway 147 yards away, and he made one bad swing.
“Stupid enough, I was walking up 7 and I was talking to Luke, my caddie. I said, ‘It’s really easy to make a quick double here.’ And I ended up doubling the hole. But that’s my point. It doesn’t take much to get yourself out of position. And when you’re out of position, then it’s not like an easy bogey. Most of the time, you’re staring at a double.”
Or in the case of Spieth, an eagle.