Players Championship gets 4 hours of play and Monday finish

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Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, tries to stay dry on ninth green during the first round of play in The Players Championship golf tournament Friday, March 11, 2022, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The Players Championship delivered only four hours of golf Friday before rain saturated the TPC Sawgrass, assuring the PGA Tour's premier event will not end until Monday.

So much for Saturday being “moving day.”

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Based on the forecast of overnight rain and raging wind, the tour said there was no chance of even making the cut until Sunday.

Play was stopped at 11:15 a.m. The conditions and the forecast were so bad the first round was not scheduled to resume until 11 a.m. Saturday, and that was described as a best-case scenario.

“The golf course has just reached a point of saturation, and unfortunately the weather conditions are not providing us any relief,” said Gary Young, the chief referee of The Players.

Puddles formed on the putting surfaces when play was stopped, and the rain kept coming. Young said the Stadium Course — formerly a swamp before the late architect Pete Dye worked his magic — had received some 3 inches of rain over a period of 36 to 48 hours.

It will be the eighth Monday finish since The Players Championship began in 1974, and the first since 2005. All the Monday finishes have occurred in March. The Players was held in May for 12 years until returning to its earlier date in 2019.

But it's never been as disjointed as this.

The opening round was delayed an hour at the start, and then was suspended for 4 hours, 15 minutes. Thursday ended with Ian Poulter running from tee-to-green on the par-3 17th so he could tee off on the 18th and assure his group could finish before darkness.

There's a good chance Poulter might not hit another shot until Sunday morning.

Only 96 players from the 144-man field have finished 18 holes.

Tommy Fleetwood and Tom Hoge finished on Thursday and each posted a 6-under 66. At best, they won't start the second round until late Saturday afternoon.

Brice Garnett holed out for eagle from the fourth fairway and was at 6 under with five holes to play when he returns Saturday.

Daniel Berger was among those at 5 under, and he was the first sign the conclusion of the opening round might have to wait. He was just short of the par-5 11th green when he called for an official because of water in the area where he wanted to land his pitch.

Out came the squeegees, and a delay waiting for them to move away the water. Jordan Spieth's second shot into the 12th was in the middle of a puddle, and he stood over his mark as the squeegee crew cleared away the water.

Dustin Johnson had three birdies in his opening four holes and went out in 32 before the wet greens twice fooled him and led to three-putt bogeys — a 40-foot putt he left well short on the 10th, a downhill putt from 30 feet that ran 6 feet by on the 13th.

Berger figured them out. He holed a 40-foot birdie putt from the fringe on No. 12 and, just as important, hit a beautiful lag putt from 50 feet on the 13th. He followed with birdie putts from 18 feet and 15 feet to reach 5 under.

Johnson was at 4 under when he walked off the green at the par-5 16th with the rain falling harder than it had all morning. Johnson is among the fastest players in golf (until he gets to the green), but not on this occasion. He took his time as he stared at the island green of the par-3 17th in a driving rain. He fiddled with his glove. He slowly reached into his bag for a rain jacket.

A horn to stop play was coming, just not fast enough. He finally hit wedge near the hole and was happy it spun back only 20 feet.

And then play was stopped before he putted. Standing in a tunnel beneath the bleachers, Johnson talked about his timing with having to hit the tee shot, but had no complaints.

“I will take that shot just where it is,” he said with a big grin.

Spieth illustrated why the island green is not really an island. His tee shot was a little long and a little left, and it caught the walkway and rolled down the slope as it hugged the edge. Because players can lift, clean and place golf balls in closely mown areas, he didn't have to stand on the wooden frame to attempt his pitch.

He barely got it on the green, and chose to mark his ball. It will be nearly 24 hours before Spieth, who was 2 under, hits his par putt.

That wasn't the only good break for Spieth.

He was in under the edge of a palmetto bush right of the 12th fairway, with no option but to go sideways to the fairway. He hit a tree on the 15th and dropped down into a flower bush, from where he could only hack out.

In both cases, the ball was embedded. He received a drop one club length away. Two embedded balls, two pars. And still a long way to go before this tournament takes shape.


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