PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — After combing through some of golf’s meaningless statistics, this might be the best explanation for how Matt Kuchar won The Players Championship: He didn’t empty all of his golf balls into the water when he played the island-green 17th hole in the final round. He was really on his game last week. He shot the lowest score.
Golf is impossible to predict as it is. Throw in the mystery that is TPC Sawgrass, and there’s no telling who beats the strongest and deepest field in golf. You’ve heard the line about there being horses for courses? This is more like predicting the dot race on video screens at a baseball game.
“There’s no other course that less people have worked out than this one,” Geoff Ogilvy said, who is still trying to do just that.
He closed with 69 on Sunday. It was only his third round in the 60s in 11 years at The Players Championship. This from a guy who has won a U.S. Open and two World Golf Championships. He’s got a little bit of game.
Perhaps more startling is Tiger Woods. By now, everyone knows that Sawgrass is not as friendly as Firestone or Torrey Pines for the 14-time major champion.
When he tied for 40th last week, it was the fifth time he has finished out of the top 30. Woods has never finished out of the top 30 more than twice at any other event.
Now consider this: Despite a level of consistency unseen in this generation – 72 wins over 15 years, and finishing among the top three in 44 percent of his tournaments – he has only seriously contended twice at Sawgrass. He was runner-up to Hal Sutton in 2000 and earned his only win the next year.
Throw in the other three players from the “Big Four” of that generation – Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh – and it doesn’t get much better. Mickelson had a chance to win only once at Sawgrass, the year he won in 2007. Singh’s only good chance was in 2001, when he was runner-up to Woods. Els never has come close.
“Everyone who has played here, they have never really been that consistent here,” Woods said. “I mean, everyone.”
Rory McIlroy is not off to a roaring start at Sawgrass. In his three times at The Players Championship, he has yet to make par or make it to the weekend. This year, he became the first No. 1 player in the world to miss the cut at Sawgrass since Greg Norman in 1996. McIlroy is only 23, and he’ll figure it out one of these days – maybe even next year.
Mickelson has shown up at Augusta National with little game and even less confidence and the light comes on. He loves the Masters because he doesn’t have to play perfect to score. That doesn’t work at Sawgrass. So when someone brought up local knowledge, it was all he could do to keep from laughing.
“I’m not sure how much local knowledge is required here,” he said. “You just have to execute. There’s really not a way to miss your way around this course, like Augusta, where you can miss in the right spots and still salvage pars. Here, if you miss shots, even if you’re in the right spot, you’re most likely not going to salvage par.”